We sometimes want to turn the nativity story into “White Christmas: The Prequel.” You know, the backstory of how God got a bunch of good hearted souls together to save an inn in Vermont, and, oh yeah, also the universe?
Christmas is so comfortable (babies, candles, gifts, carols) that we want to settle in and stay there forever. That’s where the liturgical calendar hits us up upside the head with the bracing news that Herod, and his descendants, are on the march and we are on a path that will lead us surely to the cross.
December 26 marks the first of a series of saints’ days we call the Comites Christi, the Friends of Christ. Today is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. (You can read his story in the 6th and 7th chapters of the Book of Acts.)
Stephen was the first martyr (a Greek word meaning “witness”), as well as the first deacon (a Greek word meaning, “servant” or “helper”), one of seven men chosen to care for the physical needs of the Jerusalem church.
The author of the account says that Stephen was “filled with grace and power.” He not only cared for the widows and orphans, he went out into the city proclaiming the crucified and risen Christ.
Christmas is so comfortable that we want to settle in and stay there forever. That’s where the liturgical calendar hits up upside the head with the bracing news that Herod, and his descendants, are on the march.
Stephen soon came to the attention of the authorities. The high priest summons him and Stephen gives an account of salvation history, from Abraham to Christ. His judges sentenced Stephen to death by stoning. In what must have grieved St. Paul to his death, he, then an ardent foe of the Christians, agreed to Stephen’s execution and took part in the mob violence against Christians that broke out after Stephen’s death. (Acts 8: 1-3)
For his part, Stephen followed Christ faithfully. The scriptures say,
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” and when he said this, he fell asleep.
It has long been a tradition on this day to do some kind of servant or helper work on this day in honor of St. Stephen. Perhaps you could visit an ill or elderly person who is alone on these days of Christmas. Or you could invite someone to share a festive meal who might otherwise be ignored. And remember to ask St. Stephen to help us all to be zealous in serving Christ and one another.