Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today on the day after Christmas the Church marks the celebration of the Feast of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr or the very first Martyr of the Church. St. Stephen was the very first one to die for his faith in the Lord, as a Christian, which is what the definition of a martyr is. St. Stephen was killed in cold blood by those who refused to believe in the Lord and in all the testimony of faith that he has passionately made before all the assembly of the people.
We may then be wondering why is it that we celebrate the feast of a Martyr and his painful death at the hands of the enemies of the Lord and the faithful when it is just right the day after the joyous celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord or Christmas day. In fact, we are still within the joyful season of Christmas that began just yesterday with Christmas day. Then why do we celebrate this feast of the first martyr of the Church? That is because it serves as an important reminder for us that while we rejoice this Christmas season we must not forget what Christmas stands for.
St. Stephen suffered and died because of his courage and dedication in standing up for the truth, for his belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, His salvation and Resurrection. He testified courageously of the Lord and His mission, His truth and salvation before the many people who were assembled before him as described in our first reading passage today. He was accused falsely of blasphemy and other wrongdoings by his enemies who produced false witnesses and testimonies, much like how the Lord Himself had suffered.
Yet, despite the mounting opposition against him and the anger of those who had opposed him and his ministry, St. Stephen remained steadfast and courageous, and spoke with great wisdom, of the Holy Spirit to all those gathered. He spoke openly of all that the Lord had promised and then fulfilled through Christ, the same Jesus Christ Who had been condemned to death, crucified and then later on Risen from the dead. He testified before everyone that everything are true and are exactly as promised by the Lord.
For this faith, dedication and courage, St. Stephen was attacked by those who still hardened their hearts against God, who refused to accept the Lord Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. He was condemned to death and was stoned by all the people who wanted him dead. With his last breath, St. Stephen imitated the Lord’s example, forgiving all those who have killed him and made him suffer, praying to God not to hold their sins against them. And hence, St. Stephen passed on into heavenly glory, received the crown of glory and immortality for his steadfast defence of his faith.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, all these are reminders for us that while we rejoice greatly this Christmas, we must not lose focus on what Christmas is all about. Christmas is all about Christ, His salvation and the love that He has shown us. He was willing to come to us, to share in our humanity and to dwell among us. He reached out to us and touched our hearts and minds, seeking His lost sheep, all of us, from among the nations. And we celebrate this joy He brought into the world by His birth in Bethlehem.
Those who stoned St. Stephen to death refused to accept the truth that Jesus was the Messiah or Saviour of the world, and many of them even considered Him as a blasphemer and sinner. But this was because of their stubbornness and refusal to open their hearts and minds to God. If only that they had opened themselves to the Lord, then they might have accepted Him and embraced Him. Nonetheless, as we can see, both the Lord and St. Stephen forgave all of them and prayed for their sake. In the end, everyone even the worst of sinners and those who have disobeyed the Lord, are still deserving of God’s forgiveness and mercy.
Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go through this season of Christmas, are we making our lives as Christ-centric as possible? Have we been proclaiming our Lord Jesus Christ through our lives and through how we have been celebrating Christmas? If our celebrations have been mostly about ourselves and about the glamour of worldly, secular Christmas, then we should remind ourselves of the courage with which St. Stephen had lived his life and carried out his Christian ministry. Can we follow in his footsteps and be inspired by his zeal and faith, brethren?
Let us all make our Christmas celebrations be less about ourselves but rather more of a celebration of God’s love, and let us all share the joy that we have with each other especially with those who have difficulty celebrating Christmas and all those who have been sorrowful and despairing during this year. Let us lift one another and encourage each other through these difficult times, and make our Christmas a more meaningful and truly joyful one by embracing fully our Christian faith and reorientate our celebration and focus on Christ.
May the Lord be with us always, and be our Guide through this Christmas season and beyond. And may St. Stephen be our intercessor and role model always, in everything, that we may draw ever closer to the Lord by imitating and following the examples of courage, wisdom and dedication that St. Stephen had shown for his Lord and Saviour, the same Christ born and celebrated in Christmas. Amen.