Christmas soaked in blood – 2nd day within the octave of Christmas – Feast of the protomartyr, Stephen – Matthew 10:17-22
Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Our Lord, Jesus. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier, St Stephen. Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.
We must be wondering why is it that a day after the solemnity of Christmas, we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr? Why celebrate the martyrdom of a saint whose account of his suffering and death was truly one that is terrible and painful at the same time. Even more, the Gospel of today itself seems to fracture the Christmas cheer. The Lord seems to draw a desolate picture of split families, the betrayal of parents by children and vice versa.
At first glance, to join the memory of the “protomartyr” and the birth of the Redeemer might seem surprising because of the contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the tragedy of St. Stephen, stoned in Jerusalem during the first persecution against the nascent Church. In reality, this apparent opposition is surmounted if we analyse in greater depth the mystery of Christmas. The Child Jesus, lying in the cave, is the only-begotten Son of God who became man. He will save humanity by dying on the cross.
Now we see Him in swaddling clothes in the manger; after His crucifixion, He will again be wrapped in bandages and placed in the sepulchre. It is no accident that the Christmas iconography sometimes represents the divine newborn Child lying in a small sarcophagus, to indicate that the Redeemer was born to die, He was born to give His life in ransom for all.
St. Stephen was one of the original seven deacons chosen by the Church, to be ministers to God’s people, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and he was a person filled with grace, and with wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. When, at the age of 30, the Jews accused him of blasphemy, Stephen put his trust in the Lord. Before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest, he answered the charge. He eloquently stood up for the Lord before his accusers. The court sentenced Stephen to death and he accepted death with faith.