Lessons: Psalm 93, 2 Corinthians 10:13-11:6, Matthew 13:44-52
Hymns: LSB 338, 355, 342
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today the Church remembers St. Lucia of Syracuse, also known as Santa Lucia. Lucia was a virgin who was martyred during the Diocletian Persecution of the early 300s. Like St. Nicholas last week, much of what was written of St. Lucia is from documents hundreds of years after her life, so not much can be said with absolute certainty, other than she was martyred for confessing the Christian faith.
This is what may well be true concerning Lucia: She was born around 283 and died in 304 in Syracuse, Italy, which is an ancient city on the southeastern shores of the island of Sicily. She would have been about 21 years old when she was put to death. Her father was a Roman and he died when she was young. Her mother had a Greek background and suffered from health problems. They were a wealthy family. Her mom arranged for her marriage, but Lucy had wanted to live a life for the Lord in her virginity and wanted to give her possessions to the poor. When her betrothed found out that she gave away what would have been his dowry payment—his treasure—he reported her to the government as a Christian and she was martyred by a sword that was thrust through her throat.
The Diocletian Persecution was a rough time for Christians in the Roman Empire. In A.D. 303, the Roman Emperors issued a series of four edicts to take away Christian rights and demanded that they comply with pagan Roman rituals. These persecutions continued for the next decade until the Edict of Milan in 313 legalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. That was a huge reversal for Christians! Going from the greatest persecutions they had ever faced to having their religion legalized! We give thanks to God for His mercy.
Let me summarize the four edicts against Christians. The first edict in February 303 prohibited Christian assembly for worship and ordered the destruction of places of worship, Bibles, and liturgical books throughout the Roman Empire. The remaining three edicts were enforced at varying degrees in the Roman Empire, from virtually no enforcement in the British Isles to heavy enforcement in the East in places like Thessalonica and Jerusalem. The second edict in Summer 303 ordered the arrest and imprisonment of all bishops and priests. The third edict in November 303 said any imprisoned clergy can be set free if they offer sacrifices to the Roman pagan gods. The fourth edict in early 304 called for all Christians (men, women, and children) to be gathered in a public space for a collective sacrifice; all who refused were to be executed.
It was in 304 that Lucia was martyred. Just 8 years later, Emperor Constantine would convert to Christianity and in the following year, Christianity became legal.
This day—December 13—under the old Julian calendar was the shortest day of the year, and it became known as the day to remember St. Lucia. You see, Lucia’s Latin name means “light,” which is quite fitting to consider when the Northern Hemisphere experiences the greatest amount of darkness. Customs gradually arose, especially in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, as Christians commemorated her life and martyrdom. Girls wear a white dress to symbolize purity and virginity. They also wear a red sash to remember Lucy as a martyr. One girl is chosen to dress as Lucia, who would also wear a wreath on her head with candles. Legend has it that Lucia wore a wreath on her head with lit candles to free up both her hands to help those hiding in catacombs during the Diocletian Persecution.
During that time of suffering, many Christians were killed. It was horrible. But despite facing torture or murder, many remained faithful to Christ. Some church fathers said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” Their faithfulness did not end in the Church’s destruction or downfall, even as it cost their lives. Instead, Christians are strengthened by the faithful martyrs. When we consider their lives, we can then see that our lives are rather easy. And since they had hope in the midst of their suffering and persecution, we too can certainly have hope as we face our challenges and crosses in this fallen world. Since God brought them through their tribulation to be with Christ, that same merciful God will bring us through our tribulations to be with Christ.
This past Sunday, we heard of the return of Jesus on the Last Day. Jesus instructed us to look up and lift up our heads when He returns for our redemption draws nigh. You see, our eyes are always fixed on things that are not just in the here and now. While it is always easy to only consider the various circumstances that surround us, as Christians we look well beyond our present situation. We look to our past—our history—as Christians. That is, we look back and listen to God’s Word and salvation history as it is revealed in Scripture. We look back to the faithfulness of those who have gone before. And above all, we look back to Christ our Savior who took upon Himself our sin and died on the cross to pay for our sin.
In doing so, we remember our Lord’s words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:24-28).
In this reading, along with our reading from Matthew 13:49-50, Jesus connects faithfulness to receiving the gift of eternal life. That gift will be fully realized at the Resurrection. As Christians, we not only look back to Christ and His ministry, but we also look forward to His return. We know that when Jesus returns, He will acquit us of all wrongdoing, He will receive us into His eternal kingdom, He will give us glorious bodies, and He will wipe away all tears forever. What blessings await us! And so we press forward in this life with the confidence that Christ Jesus will get us through each day until that time He receives us unto Himself. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen