Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
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 7:58-59
What a shocking contrast! Yesterday, our Church celebrated the joyous birth of the Savior of the world. Today we honour the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. Yesterday, the world was fixated on a humble and precious infant lying in a manger. Today, we stand by as witnesses to the blood that was shed by St. Stephen for professing his faith in this little child.
In a sense, this feast day adds some immediate drama to our Christmas celebration. It’s a drama that should never have happened, but it’s a drama that was permitted by God as St. Stephen bore the greatest witness of faith to this newborn King.
Perhaps there are many reasons to include the feast of the first Christian Martyr in the Church’s calendar on the second day of the Octave of Christmas. One such reason is to immediately remind us of the consequences of giving our lives to Him who was born an infant in Bethlehem. The consequences? We must give Him everything, holding nothing back, even if it means persecution and death.
At first, this could appear to strip away our Christmas joy. It could appear to put a damper on this festive season. But with the eyes of faith, this feast day only adds to the glorious solemnity of this Christmas celebration.
It reminds us that the birth of Christ requires everything from us. We must be ready and willing to give our lives to Him completely and without reserve. The birth of the Savior of the world means we must reprioritize our lives and commit to choosing Him above all else, even above our own lives. It means we must be ready and willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus, living selflessly and faithfully to His most holy will.
“Jesus is the reason for the season,” we often hear. This is true. He is the reason for life and the reason to give our lives without reserve.
Reflect, today, upon the demand imposed upon you by the birth of the Savior of the world. From an earthly perspective, this “demand” can appear overwhelming. But from the perspective of faith, we recognize that His birth is nothing more than an opportunity for us to enter into new life. We are called to enter into a new life of grace and total self-giving. Let yourself embrace this Christmas celebration by looking at ways you are being called to give of yourself more completely. Do not be afraid to give everything to God and others. It’s a sacrifice worth giving and is made possible by this precious Child.
Lord, as we continue the glorious celebration of Your birth, help me to understand the effect that Your coming among us must have on my life. Help me to clearly perceive Your invitation to give myself completely to Your glorious will. May Your birth instill in me a willingness to be born anew into a life of selfless and sacrificial giving. May I learn to imitate the love that St. Stephen had for You and to live that radical love in my life. St. Stephen, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston on Tasmania,