I doubt you’ll remember this ahead of time, but a week from today, December 21st, is the feast of Saint Thomas. This is a major feast day in the calendar that very easily sneaks up on us. Here we are, going through Advent, preparing for Christmas which is just three days away, and suddenly everything goes on hold for a day to celebrate the Apostle Thomas. We’re more used to hearing about him on the heels on Easter, in the famous story of his doubting the resurrection until he too gets to be an eyewitness.
The Roman Catholic Church (and I think also the modern calendar for the Church of England) has dealt with this issue of placement and attention by shuffling Thomas’ feast day to early July, where he only has to compete with the adjacent Independence Day in the USA; a much easier “holiday conflict” to resolve than this. But in the American Prayer Book tradition, we’ve always kept St. Thomas Day on its historic date.
One way that we can capitalize on this traditional date is by observing that the 21st is usually the Winter Solstice (in the Northern hemisphere) – it’s the shortest day and longest night of the year. Thomas, likewise, was in the darkness of doubt the longest of the apostles. All of them doubted the resurrection, and refused to believe until they saw evidence, but Thomas was absent for Jesus’ dinner visit that first Easter evening and had to wait for the following Sunday to see him for himself. The match-up of darkened faith and darkened daylight gives December 21st a sort of fittingness to the celebration of Saint Thomas.
This even fits into part of the Advent theme, in which we are praying for the return of Christ, striving to “keep watch” – to keep our lamps burning, as it were. The Collect that starts (and traditionally accompanies throughout) the season exhorts to “put on the armor of light.” Even with Christmas Day rushing toward us at tilt-neck speed, let us remember to celebrate the Apostle Thomas next week. His story of wavering-but-confirmed faith, paired with the turn of the natural season from darkness toward light and the liturgical season of bearing light for Christ, can make for a wonderful occasion of spiritual refreshment in the midst of what is for many the busiest time of year.
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