“But he [Stephen], filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he 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.’ Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and when he said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:55-60)
Just yesterday, we began our observance of Christmastide by celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord. And now today, we observe the Feast of Saint Stephen, the Church’s first martyr and one of the Church’s first seven deacons whose ordination by the Apostles reported in Acts of the Apostles.
His stoning and death, observed by the future Apostle Paul, was certainly a time of sadness; as it always is when we lose a loved one. But the lessons for us as we observe this Feast on the Church’s liturgical calendar—only one day after Christmas Day—are important to living our Christian faith.
First, there is good and evil. So make no mistake: God is good in all things. Jesus came to a people who had been living in a great darkness. He came as the Light of the World that would overcome the dark. His life, death and resurrection bring us new life.
Second, Christ has defeated death, so although the death of a loved one remains for us who are left behind a sad experience, it is also a time of great joy in anticipation of salvation. Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the goodness of the Lord and love and forgiveness for his executioners.
Third, following the examples or Christ and Saint Stephen, we can learn how to live the Christian faith that will bring us to new life and salvation. We have opportunities to lay down our lives. Not all of us will be physical martyrs, but we can daily deny ourselves for the good of others around us.
As we enter more deeply into the Christmas season, let’s try to imitate Saint Stephen in his faith, courage, love and sacrifice; always choosing Christ and turning from evil. Let us continually lay down our lives for Jesus.
Into the deep…
The Feast of Saint Stephen, Deacon and Protomartyr, is December 26.
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