For well over a thousand years the 26th of December meant only one thing to Christianity and, soon enough, western civilization.
It was the Feast Day of St. Stephen.
Remember the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas? "Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even."
It was always coupled with Christmas. Always. For the Son of God came that he might give his life as a ransom for many. And sometimes, following him, the Christian gives his life or her life in Christ's name and also for the sake of the many.
Stephen was the first believer in Christ to die for no other reason than that he was a believer in Christ and a believer that God so loved the world.
For centuries Christians celebrated both Jesus and Stephen side-by-side.
Then in the 1800s people came up with a better idea. Make Christmas not about Jesus or the child born to die on the Cross - make it about buying and buying and buying. Then to this good idea they added another good idea. Forget this dreary Feast of Stephen and its talk about losing your life for Christ's sake in order that you might find it. Instead, follow the new example of December 25th on December 26th as well - buy and buy and buy - and buy even more.
Whoever dies with the most toys wins.
Christians, who are up in arms about how Christmas has been corrupted, say very little about the loss of Stephen's Feast Day (if they're even aware of it). I would say the malls this Sunday will be full of millions of Christmas worshiping their God by buying and buying and buying till they drop.
Some will even skip church to do it.
Because, I mean, let's not be legalistic about it.
We can worship God anytime and on any day of the week.
But St. Stephen the Martyr's Boxing Day sales only come around once a year - and some of the best deals are to be had right on the Feast Day of the 26th. God understands.
Perhaps he's out shopping too.
Yes, I know it's the only example in Scripture where Jesus is on his feet in heaven, not sitting on the throne, witnessing Stephen's murder and shed blood.
Well, I'm on my feet too. Looking for ways to save money.
And the money I save I tithe to the church.
. . . now and then . . .
Let's not be legalistic about it.
I mean, God is such a plush, huggable, overstuffed, squeezable god these days, what harm could he find in rank materialism?
We've lost the Feast of Stephen. Most Christians didn't even blink. And this Sunday's excitement will not be worship with other believers.
It will be buying and selling.
Now that's something to get excited about.
I once had a T shirt that mightily offended almost everyone in our culture when I wore it. It irritated Christians, non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, the whole spectrum.
I'd often hear people muttering about my T shirt after I'd passed by.
No, one young woman said to her friend, somewhat distraught as she spoke, that's not the way it goes - it's whoever dies with the most toys wins, that's how it works, whoever dies with the most toys wins!
It sounded like she was frantically trying to convince herself.
And what was on my black T shirt?
"Whoever dies with the most toys wins" - but wins was X'd out and replaced by two other words that changed the phrase completely and made it, actually, truer than true, even gospel true.
"Whoever dies with the most toys . . . still dies".