Today in the historic church year, the stoning of St. Stephen is commemorated. Christmas, you see, is serious business, a very deadly business. God sent into this world His Son, who, like Stephen, was killed at the hands of sinful men. Our Lord Christ was the true and faithful Witness from the Father, but the world received Him not. But this did not stop our Lord. He knew why He had come. He knew what He had to do. He did not turn back. He did not run. He set His face like flint, and scorning the cross’ shame, He endured it for our life and salvation. Life died. The dead live. What a blessed mystery and joy.
And so, on the day after Christ’s birth, there is commemorated the first martyr in the church, St. Stephen, who died as a faithful confessor and witness of His Lord. The word “martyr,” a Greek word, means, “witness.” The confession of Christ as the only way, the only truth, and the only life is not a message any more popular today. A cute baby in a manger seems harmless enough to many, but when that baby’s mission is proclaimed and insisted upon, in various ways our culture starts gathering its stones to stop this proclamation.
On a day when shopping mall parking lots are stuffed full of people trying to return gifts, there is a certain dreadful and wonderful irony that the church this day remembers Stephen, killed by those who did not want the Lord’s gift of a Christ. And so, they took up stones to murder one of the Christ child’s faithful disciples, St. Stephen, who went to his death confessing the gift of the Savior Jesus.
Ponder and meditate on the reality of death as the ultimate cost of discipleship. Recall our Lord’s words, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall
lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” [Mark 8:35]. Consider your own calling in life. When, and where, are the opportunities in your life to confess your Savior? What do you sacrifice in order to bear witness to your Lord? When have you remained silent? When have you compromised your confession in order to avoid the “stones” of those who would persecute the Faith? Confess those sins and repent of them. Thank God for faithful Stephen and His confession of the One whose blood cleanses us from all sins, and sets us free to confess Him with joy and confidence. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ give you great strength and joy in confessing His Son, as you follow the example of Blessed St. Stephen. God grant it, for Jesus sake.
You may find it a real blessing to meditate prayerfully on the libretta of Bach’s Cantata 57, prepared specifically for St. Stephen’s day. Note the sturdy realism of this text.