December 26, 2018
(St. Stephen, First Martyr)
Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts_6:8-10;7:54-59
Jesus said to His disciples, “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Mt_10:17-22
To all the wonder, the glory, the pageantry, and the beauty of our celebration of the new-born babe in a manger; to all the heraldry of the wise men on camels, the surprise of angels appearing to shepherds and the simplicity of a seemingly natural birth of this child, though it was actually rather supernatural; to all of the glory of new life, here we are, the day after Christmas, commemorating a death caused by that very life of Jesus.
And yet, IS it really the death of Stephen that is so significant on this 26th day of December?
Jesus, straight-out told his disciples that because of Him there would be suffering, there would be death, there would be challenges to their faith that they would not even be able to verbally defend, by themselves. We see it ALL in this first example of a very zealous, faithful, young disciple named Stephen.
And it is no different than the struggle, the passion that Jesus, himself endured. And it’s no different than the same struggles that we have to endure in our lives. Maybe it’s not someone confronting us directly, but maybe, instead, it’s our own endurance of some physical or psychological pain.
What is it that we have to endure in this life, beloved, that’s not very pleasant, nor easy? . . .
The loss of a loved one? A sense of loneliness or depression? Abandonment by someone we love for a reason we can’t even imagine? The overwhelming burden of responsibility? Or maybe even the feeling that we’ve been discarded by society and are lost in boredom or uselessness?
There’s an old saying that goes: No one ever said it would be bed of roses. And Yet! And yet, our Master’s whole purpose for coming among us was to show us that it really could be.
You see, just His stooping to becoming a mere human is our best example of God’s enormous love for us! And not only did He come to show us, as adults, the path to His peace, but God chose to experience our entire existence, as a human, from birth to death, in order to prove to us that all of this suffering CAN be overcome – by our faith in Jesus.
And not only did Jesus come, and teach, and leave us, but He sent His Holy Spirit to REMAIN with us all the way up to our very last breath! To give us the answers, to give us the words, to give us the strength to endure EVEN death.
Our celebration of St. Steven today is not meant to dump cold water on a warm shower. It’s not here to remind us that with every Glorious celebration of life there is always the harsh reality of suffering and death. But it IS here to remind us that EVEN in the face of life’s struggles, God’s unfathomable LOVE for us can carry us through even the worst of life’s experiences.
And Jesus IS our proof!
And St. Stephen is Jesus’ model for us, that the Holy Spirit IS alive and just waiting for us to rely on Him.
Mary, Mother of God,
St. Stephen our brother,
and Jesus our salvation,
Pray for us!
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