Monday, December 13, 2010

Memorial of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr

(Numbers 24:2-7.15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)

A paradox of Christmas is that its joy of Jesus’ birth cannot be celebrated without consideration of his brutal death. Not only does awareness of the crucifixion keep us from overdoing merry-making, more importantly it points us to the purpose of Christ’s coming. Matthew will shadow his Christmas narrative with the story of Herod’s merciless slaughter of babes. Luke will have Simeon tell Mary that her child will be the source of the fall of many and that she will be pierced by a sword. Jesus is born so that he might offer himself as a perfect sacrifice making up for all evil.

In today’s readings we receive a foretaste of the bittersweet Christmas celebration. The passage from Numbers reminds us of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. The star which the holy man Balaam sees in the heaven anticipates the star which brings the magi from their homeland to Bethlehem. For us that star refers to Jesus whose passion is hinted at in the gospel. His adversaries in the discussion over the authority of his preaching, “the chief priests and elders of the people,” will pronounce together a little while later that Jesus deserves to die. In fact Jesus’ outwitting them in today’s passage provides part of the motive of the Jewish leaders’ condemnation.

The Church keeps Jesus’ birth in proper perspective by celebrating the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, on the day after Christmas. In that vein we should consider today’s memorial of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr. Before the change of calendars in the eighteenth century, Lucy’s feast coincided with the winter solstice. She was a light in darkness reminding us that God’s grace overcomes the most trying circumstances. With it people can even give their lives in testimony to Jesus being our Savior.