Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the day after the Christmas day, every year, we celebrate the feast of the holy Protomartyr, St. Stephen. 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. In the Acts of the Apostles, the story of his last stand and defence for the faith, and his martyrdom were written, how he eloquently stood up for the Lord before his accusers, and accepted death with faith.
We must be wondering why is it that in such a time and season filled with joy and celebration that is this Christmas, then suddenly just right the day after the glorious and joyous day that is Christmas itself, then we are celebrating the feast of a great martyr of the faith, whose account of his suffering and death was truly one that is terrible and painful at the same time. He was falsely accused by his enemies and all those who sought to silence him, and was stoned to death.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the reason why we celebrate the painful death of a great martyr of the Church, the first to be martyred after the foundation of the Church, and hence, St. Stephen’s title of protomartyr, is because we must remember, that Christmas in itself, all the joy and celebration associated with it, is far more than all the revelries and celebrations that we often associate with Christmas, in how this world celebrate Christmas.
In truth, as we all should have known, Christmas is all about Christ and His coming into this world, with a special mission, and that is the salvation of us all. He is God, Who willingly embraced us mankind, by humbling Himself to take up the form and appearance of Man, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of His mother Mary. He was born into this world, God Who became incarnate into Man, Son of God and Son of Man, two distinct and yet inseparable natures, in the person of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
It is this truth which St. Stephen had to suffer and die for, the truth that the Messiah has come, as God Himself, incarnate in the flesh, fully God and yet at the same time also fully Man. He proclaimed before the people gathered, the truth about the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Whom they have rejected and crucified, and yet, Whom St. Stephen proclaimed to be the Saviour that God had promised His people, and Who had not died, but rose from the dead into His heavenly glory.
The Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and many of those who refused to believe in Christ and His truth, were angered by St. Stephen’s wisdom and revelation before them, his stand for his faith and for his God and Saviour, even when faced with a certainty of death amidst the throng and many people who wanted his death for the supposed blasphemy. St. Stephen courageously stood by his faith and became inspiration for countless generations of Christians even to this very day.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we continue to progress through the season of Christmas, we ought to reflect on the life and the works of St. Stephen, his love for God and his courageous stand for his faith in Him. How can St. Stephen have that courage to stand before his many accusers and all those who were obviously hostile against him and his faith in God? That was because St. Stephen had great faith and love for God.
He truly believed in the salvation which Christ had brought with Him, Who emptied Himself of all glory and majesty, to suffer a most painful death on the cross, all for the sake of the salvation of us, His beloved people. And although St. Stephen knew that the people who went up against him were unlikely to listen to him, but he did what he could, and what he must do, in proclaiming the truth about the Messiah.
In the end, conversion did come for some among them, most importantly and prominently, St. Paul the Apostle, whom in his previous persona of Saul, was one of those who stoned St. Stephen to death. God called Saul, and he went through conversion to the faith, and became like St. Stephen, in devoting the rest of his life to God, and suffered martyrdom in Rome for his courageous faith.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us should realise that Christmas is a reminder for us, that we are all those who believe in God, Who came into this world as a Man, as a Child born in the town of Bethlehem, Who has come to save the world, and yet many refused to believe in Him, persecuted and rejected Him as well as His disciples and followers. Throughout the history of the Church, many thousands and more have suffered from their devotion and faith to God, even to this very day.
Therefore, let us all pray, that our brethren in faith who are still constantly persecuted for their faith in various parts of the world, will remain strong in their commitment to God, and will not fall away from the faith. And let us also remain strong and committed ourselves, in our faith, by living our lives with true love and sincere faith in God, by sharing our Christmas joy with one another, especially with those who are in need and are suffering.
St. Stephen, holy martyr of the Church, the first of those in the Church who died because of your faith in God, pray for us all sinners, pray for each and every one of us, that by your intercession, we too may be strengthened in faith, and that we may live our lives ever more faithfully and ever closer to God, our loving Father. Amen.