It is easy to forget that Christmas is about death. The Father sent the Son to give His life. If we pay attention the other commemorations during the extended Christmas feast this is made more evident to us.
The West celebrates the feast of St Stephen the Protomartyr today. The East celebrates it tomorrow. It didn’t take long after the death and resurrection of Jesus to find out that following Jesus meant following him in death to self, and often not just in an ascetical way. There are folk out there who really, really don’t like the Gospel. Start telling the truth and they start getting very angry.
On the 28th the West celebrate the Holy Innocents. The East celebrates them on the 29th. They could be considered the real proto-martyrs. From His birth, Jesus challenged the ultimate authority of the State. The Holy Innocents were martyred because there was another King of the Jews.
Butler’s Lives of the Saints quotes the Spanish poet Prudentius:
All hail, sweet flowers of martyrdom,
Cut down in life’s bright dawning hour,
And shattered by the foe of Christ,
As rosebuds in a whirling storm . . .
Amidst the streams of blood that flowed
From tender babes of equal age,
Alone, the Virgin’s Son escaped
The sword that pierced the mothers’ hearts.
In the East, each of the five days after today’s Synaxsis of the Theotokos commemorates martyrs. Between St Stephen and the Holy Innocents are the 20,000 martyred at Nicomedia in 302 under Emperor Maximian. On the 30th, the Church remembers the martyr Anysia.
The purpose of the Nativity is the Passion and Pascha. When we born into the family of God, we are exhorted that we must take up our own cross daily. The days of the festal period should also remind us of those who suffer daily hardship and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel.