Reflection on the Feast of Stephen, first martyr: Scripture Readings
Here we are, the day after Christmas. This is a time for joy, cheer, good company, and martyrdom. Yup, the day after celebrating the nativity of adorable little baby Jesus we have the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr (makes sense why Good King Wenceslaus is a Christmas carol now). This begs the question, “What’s the deal Church? Why celebrate the feast of the first Christian martyr the day after Christmas? Can’t we just get a couple days of cute baby action?” Obviously the answer is no, but I want to spend our reflection this morning exploring why the Church might celebrate the feast of Stephen the day after Christmas.
We celebrate the feast of Stephen the day after Christmas to remind us how radical yesterday’s feast truly is. Christmas is about more than family time and gift giving; more than a fat man that can fit down skinny chimneys; and even more than the holy family being visited by shepherds with their sheep and goats (or maybe they didn’t bring the goats, which would explain Jesus in Matthew 25 hating on goats). Christmas is the start of a revolution.
The way Americans view the Battle of Lexington and Concord is how the Church is asking us to view Christmas. At the time when “Tiberivs Caesar Divi Avgvsti Filivs Avgvstvs” (“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”) reigned in Rome, the true Son of God was born. At a time when the “Prince of this World” had Judaism fractured into four disputing factions the Prince of Peace came. At a time when the Law was crushing the lowly, the Almighty came under the Law to fulfill it. More can be said, but I think you get the point. Christmas is the start of an upheaval. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis call the Christ event the greatest revolution in human history. The Church calls this revolution to mind by offering us the account of Stephen’s martyrdom and Christ’s warning of persecution.
None of this is to detract from this Christmas season. Praise God that Christ has been born! Christmas should give us great joy and peace, but not everyone is happy about that upheaval. As participants in Christ’s revolution we differ from the militiamen at Lexington and Concord. We aren’t called to pick up arms to achieve His victory through violence. Instead we bear witness to the victory He already won when He allowed the world’s violence to be spent upon Him. Like Stephen, that witness might mean we face persecution like Christ did.
In this Christmas season we can join our voice to Stephen, crying out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”