Liturgical Colour : Red
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the feast day of the first martyr of the faith, that is St. Stephen, known also as the Protomartyr or simply the first martyr in Greek. We celebrate today the memory of this great and zealous defender of the faith, the very first one to gave up his life for the sake of Jesus the Lord.
Many of you may ask, why do we suddenly and so quickly jump from the joyous celebrations of Christmas into the sombre celebration of one’s death, a martyr of the faith no less? That is because St. Stephen died not for nothing, but because he gave up his life as an example to the faithful, that we should never ever leave behind or abandon the true joy of Christmas in Jesus.
St. Stephen met his death because he rebuked harshly the Pharisees and the chief priests who were judging him, because of their lack of faith in Jesus, and because of their compliance in killing the very One sent by God to deliver everyone from sin and death, themselves included. He met his death because he spoke the truth, about the Lord who came to save His people in Jesus, the joy and glory we celebrate on Christmas day.
Therefore it is no less fitting that we celebrate in honour of this saint who had courageously defended the Christ who was reviled, rejected, and cast out by His own beloved people. He did not fear man but God alone. And he truly followed the way of the Lord, imitating even Jesus in death. Remember that Jesus forgave His executioners and those who condemned Him, asking the Father not to punish them for what they had done? What St. Stephen had done was essentially the same thing.
We rejoice in the Lord at Christmas, and we celebrate with great joy and festivities, but have we put Christ at the centre of our joy and our celebrations? Or have we forgotten entirely about Him in our festivities? We cannot be Christians if we do not put Christ at the centre of our lives, just as we cannot have Christmas if we do not put Christ at the heart of what we are celebrating.
To be Christian is to follow what St. Stephen had done, maybe not into martyrdom as what had happened to him, but in terms of zealous and unchanging faith, even in the midst of persecution and societal pressure for us to do otherwise. It is sad to see how many of the faithful have changed their views of the faith, and even the faith that they have itself, to accommodate to the currently popular ways of the world.
Many of them did these because they fear persecution, opposition, ridicule, and many other similar reasons. Many did them because of the pressure to conform to the societal ‘norms’, especially the socially acceptable ones. Many did so because they do not want to look weird or unacceptable to their peers and friends. And some did so because they craved power and popularity, which they could not have gained if they keep faithfully the faith in the Lord in its completeness.
And Christmas too have often become none other than just another party time or shopping and holiday season. Christmas had become so commercialised and infused with the greed and the values of the world that we have often forgotten about Christ. Between Christmas and how we live our lives according to our faith, both are no different, assailed at all sides by the forces of the evil one seeking our destruction.
That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important that in this Christmas season that we look at, and emulate the examples that St. Stephen had presented to us, and what he had shown to his opponents in that judging session. St. Stephen proudly and without fear, proclaimed his faith in God aloud, without compromise and without seeking for acceptance at the price of his faith.
St. Stephen served God’s people as one of the first seven deacons, and even though his service might have been very short indeed, but his holiness and exemplary actions show that, being a Christian, and in the celebration of Christmas, firstly Christ must always be at the centre of everything, be it our lives, how we live our daily lives, in our words and actions, and in everything. We cannot be half-hearted Christians, who believed in only what we like to believe in, or what is often called to be “market” or “cafetaria” Christians.
Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue our celebration of Christmas, and as we rejoice in the great saint, Stephen the martyr, let us always remember to devote ourselves wholly and without distractions to the Lord, keeping the faith we have for Him devoutly, without compromising anything for the sake of the world. Both St. Stephen and Jesus Himself did not compromise anything, for the sake of what they are called to do in this world. For St. Stephen, it is for the glory of God, and for Jesus, it is for the salvation of all.
May St. Stephen pray for us, that the Lord will send His help to us, to strengthen our faith, and to be ready to stand up for our faith in the same way as St. Stephen had done, fearing not the powers of this world and proclaim our faith in its entirety. May we all have a blessed time this Christmas season and may God be with us all always. Amen.