Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the Feast of Stephen

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts of the Apostles 7:54-60

Stephen was a deacon in the early Church, called to aid the apostles when the rapid growth of the Church had made necessary additional administrators. St. Stephen was, unfortunately for him, the first martyr of many for the Church.

It seems a bit unusual that today of all days, the day after one of the most joyous of the year, we choose to remember and feast St. Stephen, someone who was murdered for the church. It would seem to fit better after Easter where it would serve as a nice parallel to the crucifixion, with the caveat that though we experience eternal life through Christ, he alone can conquer death. Instead we celebrate today; the day after a birth, mere moments after reflecting on the awe of a new birth and the joy of a Messiah come, a martyr who killed brutally.

This jerks us back to reality. This move in the calendar forces us back into the hardship of life after allowing us a day to celebrate. Though Christ has come, he has not come to cure all of our ills. His call to service is one fraught with risk. What this baby asks of us is not always going to be easy, and in fact it will rarely be so. We will be called to give up our jackets to those who have none, to welcome back those who have wronged us, to love the unlovable, heal the sick, sacrifice ourselves for others. Through Stephen, we must be reminded of the sacrifices Jesus made for us and recognize that, for most of us, we will have far less asked of us, and should offer our sacrifices joyfully.

And everyone, those called to make sacrifices both large and small should remember to do so as Stephen did, with their eyes and hearts turned to God and full of forgiveness.

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