Today the church remembers St. Stephen, Deacon and Proto-Martyr.
It may seem odd to place the feast day of a martyr so close to The Nativity, but the reality is that Jesus came into a world of violence, no matter how loudly you sing “Silent Night.”
The pairing of the birth of the Messiah with the first martyr was intentional: Christ’s arrival is meant to redeem and reform our violent ways…but we’re not there yet.
St. Stephen appears in the Acts of the Apostles as a follower of Jesus whose defining characteristic is love. Even as he was being stoned to death, he prayed for his persecutors. We don’t know anything else about this disciple who apparently led a short, but noteworthy, life.
St. Stephen is joined by two other feast days directly on the heels of The Nativity: the Holy Innocents and St. John. All three will form a few days of peaks and valleys as the 12 Days of Christmastide play out. St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents will remind the us of the tragic nature of our world. St. John, the only Apostle said to have died of natural causes, will remind us that not everything is bad. This back-and-forth swing of the feasts of the church provide a rhythm that calls us to both work for justice, as not everything is well, and thank God for life and creation, because not everything is bad.
By the way, you sing of St. Stephen every year in the Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas” who, if you recall, “looked out on the Feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, clean and crisp and even…”
St. Stephen is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that love is powerful, and it’s what we cling to and are held by in this life.
-icon written by Theophilia