Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day and the Feast of Stephen

Jesus said, "Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Matthew 23:34-39

We find that the day after Christmas in our household is a day to sleep late and to relax after all the busy time. This year I had six services in three days, and was ready for a respite after all that. The feast of Stephen, who was a Deacon, and who saw heaven open to him as he was dying, seems the perfect time to also celebrate Boxing Day, the day when those who serve so faithfully were given gifts.

Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts from their superiors. The exact etymology of the term "boxing" is unclear. There are several competing theories, none of which is definitive. The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.

In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary entry for 19 December 1663. This custom is linked to an older English tradition: Since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.

May we take time today to be grateful for all the people who do so much for us today. We are all blessed with family and friends who make our lives joyful and fun. We have those who work for us and with us and who make our tasks enjoyable. And there are those who serve us, named and unnamed, at restaurant tables, the nurses and doctor's aides, in groceries and salons, who often go un-thanked for their cheerfulness and kindnesses. May we remember that we are all servants of a loving God who came into the world, vulnerable and needy as we are. And may we share the love incarnate today with everyone we meet.

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