One of the wonderful things about the Christmas season (at least, in a typical year) is the way it re-introduces us to people. Some of the most memorable re-introductions come from the surrounding culture. Who can suppress a warm smile at their first yearly sighting of Santa, Rudolph, and the elves? Or at the Grinch, and the whole Peanuts gang?
But the church, too, is actively bringing some memorable people to our attention in the run-up to Christmas. It shares these vivid personalities with us through the feast days that occupy the weeks in the latter half of Advent.
We’ll meet King David: poet and warrior, fugitive and conqueror; a man of twists and turns who knew both the exhilaration of victory and the desolation of personal loss.
We’ll meet James: the apostle called the “Brother of the Lord,” who after Christ’s ascension led the church in its turbulent dawning days, and became the first bishop of Jerusalem.
We’ll meet Stephen: that fiery speaker who preached the gospel in the public square; who is remembered as the first deacon of the church—and its first martyr.
We’ll meet Peter and Paul: the “odd couple” of the Apostolic Age; rivals in so many matters of practice and policy, yet united in a friendship of the spirit that drew both to the heart of the Roman empire, to preach and suffer in their Master’s name.
Finally, we’ll meet the brothers James and John: two of the most intimate confidants of our Lord. John in particular left us some of the deepest, most introspective writing in the Bible. Yet to Jesus, he and James were known as the “Thunder Boys”—a name evoking vigor and action (which would also make a great title for next summer’s superhero blockbuster).
These are the stories the church re-introduces to us through the feasts of the weeks leading to Christmas (on December 23, 25, 27, and 28). In the days to come—especially in this quiet period between the two blessed celebrations of Christ’s nativity, on December 25 and January 6—devote some time to reading and thinking about them.
Somehow, getting to know these figures prepares us for that greatest re-introduction of all, when we will once more welcome the infant Jesus into our hearts and lives.
—Christopher H. Zakian