One day after Christmas is already another feast day, this time that of St Stephen. Stephen is remembered for his faith ( and his vision of heaven) as he was stoned to death for being a follower of Christ. He is the first Christian martyr.
A friend on Facebook recently vented and complained about the somewhat childish way that many celebrate Christmas–too much party, too little seriousness, he thought. I love the way that Christmas Eve, especially, is an invitation into a more childlike world view–both from the point of view of adoring the goodness in the Christ child and the festivities of lights, gifts, and feasting that go along with the celebrations. But I see his point, which is that Christmas is also about God breaking into the midst of darkness, into a world that is not all sparkle and light.
St Stephen’s day reminds us immediately of this truth–even today there are Christians who suffer for their faith in the Middle East, recent martyrs that have also been killed for their faith, and the world is full of the suffering of divisions whether political, racial, class, or national divisions. We also may have brokenness or loss within our individual lives. God took the form of a human baby, who would grow up to suffer, and to suffer with us and for us, so the darkness would not be overcome.
It’s easy for each of us to identify with being the martyr or being the one who suffers, and this is all true. But St Stephen’s story should also remind us that God came for the persecutors, too, for a conversion of heart. After all, Acts points out that among the onlookers and persecutors of St Stephen was Saul—who would later be renamed as Paul, whom we call St Paul today. God came for the Sauls among us, and the Sauls within each one of us. Each of us has places where we identify with suffering but it’s also good to be honest about where we may have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the suffering of others, perhaps (like Saul) out of a belief that we are doing good.
Jesus came to bring peace and to reconcile us, despite our divisions and our ignorance. St Stephen’s day reminds us that this is a part of the Christmas season as well.