December 26, 2019
Feast of St. Stephen
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22
Christ is born. Worship Him. Today we celebrate the witness of St. Stephen. He was chosen by the apostles to assist in the service of the poor, the orphans and the widows in the community. Cooperating with the graces of his calling, he exerted himself in living the Gospel and his self-sacrificing witness was crowned with martyrdom. We celebrate this man’s total devotion to the One who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. We celebrate his courage when confronted by his accusers. A few moments ago we heard the account of his brutal death. As we celebrate the coming of Christ in the Flesh, we also celebrate the entry of Stephen into his heavenly homeland. The Eternal Word leaped down from heaven so that Stephen might ascend there.
We need to look beyond the brutal details of his execution. As he walked through the valley of death, he raised his eyes to the heights. There he saw the Lord of Life rending the heavens and lowering a ladder and encouraging him to make his ascent into heaven. Having ascended the rungs of the ladder, he was clothed in a robe of light and invited to partake of the Banquet of Life. Having been conformed to the image of the Master, Stephen yielded up his last breath and made his soul a free-will offering to the Father.
The nativity story tells us that even from the moment of His birth, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had no place to lay his head. There was no room for him in the inn, nor in the hearts of men. Like his Master, Stephen found himself an outcast, rejected by the very people he had come to serve. The stone-hard hearts of his persecutors caused him more pain than the stones with which they put him to death. One can imagine him making these heart-rending words of Jesus his own: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those that God sends you. I have often longed to gather your children to myself, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Mat. 23:37).
The world has not changed. We live in an age when people who dwell in darkness are paranoid of the Light. People who wander aimlessly with no one to guide them are skeptical of the Way. People who have an insatiable curiosity to hear something new have no patience with the Truth. In his death may Stephen speak to the hearts of those who are confused or anxious. As we confront our own frailty and mortality, may the words of Isaiah echo in our hearts: “Be strong, do not fear. Behold, your God is coming to your rescue. He Himself is coming to save you” (Is. 35:4). Following the example of the martyr Stephen, may we boldly confess Christ and manifest His presence in our midst. “For to us, a child is born. To us, a son is given. Princely power shall be upon his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). When He returns in glory, may he bring us all together to everlasting life. Amen.