Five golden rings

Thomas Becket was named Chancellor of England by King Henry II in 1154. Eight years later Thomas was elected Archbishop of Canterbury. The relationship of king and bishop was tumultuous. Church and state in Europe were embroiled in a fight for power called the Investiture Controversy. (The failure of Henry’s son John to withstand opposition of Pope Innocent III in the same continuing controversy led to the signing of the Magna Carta, one of the most important documents in English history, in 1215.) Thomas was exiled from England for several years, but when he returned he was no more willing to obey his king. Thomas insisted that the Church had greater authority than the king.

During a government meeting, Henry reportedly exclaimed, “Who will rid me of this man?” Four people present at that meeting thought they would do the king a favor, and so they murdered Thomas in the cathedral at Canterbury on December 29, 1170. Henry recognized a political disaster when he saw one, and he made a great show of sorrow over the death of Thomas. Thomas of Canterbury, after his death, became a great hero of the English people. People made pilgrimages to Canterbury to honor his memory.

Again, the twelve days of Christmas do not guarantee easy and problem-free lives in this world. Like Stephen, though, the martyred Thomas of Canterbury is in Paradise awaiting the great Day of the Lord when all problems will be solved and all troubles fixed. In that promise is peace and joy. J.

Two turtledoves

The second day of Christmas is also known as St. Stephen’s Day and Boxing Day. In Britain people give gifts and privileges to their servants. Some American families try to mark this day by leaving small presents for mail carriers, newspaper deliverers, and even those who carry off the garbage. The Beatles’ movie Magical Mystery Tour was first shown on television on Boxing Day in 1967.

The festival of St. Stephen reminds Christians that not all things in this world are merry and bright. We are still surrounded by sin, and Christ’s love for us makes us targets for those who hate Christ. Stephen testified to Jesus and his central place in God’s plan for the world. As a result, Stephen was stoned to death by the same authorities who had earlier condemned Jesus and handed him over to the Roman authorities, demanding his execution.

The martyrdom of Stephen is a sobering memory during the twelve days of Christmas. Yet Stephen is celebrated as one of those who is with Jesus, in the Father’s hands, in Paradise. Stephen died confident of the power of the Lord and confident in the promised resurrection. When Christ is seen in glory, Stephen will be with him, and he will live with Christ and all His people in a new and perfect world. Jesus has conquered death, and death cannot prevail against His people. May that good news enlighten your continuing celebration of Christmas. J.