Because most folks do not run off to church every day during the 12 days of Christmas, we miss a compelling understory that runs through this season of bowl games and parties, travel and relaxation. The understory is a dark one. The church calendar marks people and events that reflect the struggles and violence of the world that Christ came to save.
Today, the "two turtledove" day in the 12 Days of Christmas carol, commemorates the church's first martyr, Stephen, the deacon. He confronted the religious authorities in Jerusalem with his witness to Jesus Christ and was stoned to death for his comments. A young man named Saul, the future St. Paul, was a bystander.
The feast of Stephen is also noted in the carol "Good King Wenceslas" about a poor man looking for firewood on a bitter winter night in the 10th century. The Bohemian king, Wenceslas, decides to take his page out to find the man, build a fire and serve him dinner. The king and page fight through the bitter snow, and the page almost gives up the trek. The king tells him to step within his footprints ... and his feet are so warm that they melt the snow right down to the ground. This was one of the miracles that made the historical king, Saint Wenceslas I, a revered saint almost from the instant of his death.
It ends with a cry for this season, one we forget in our celebrations: "Therefore Christian men be sure, wealth or rank possessing/Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing."
Where do you find someone struggling outside your doorstep today? Where do you see someone willing to die for their convictions? What does it mean to you that the Christmas season encompasses martyrdom and mercy, testimony and courage?