Read: Jeremiah 26:1-9,12-15; Psalm 31; Acts 6:8--7:2a,51c-60; and Matthew 23:34-39
“The old church calendar, in its wisdom, places immediately after the joyful feast of the Nativity the day of St. Stephen (December 26), first martyr of the Church in Acts and the... story of the bloody massacre of the boy babies. New birth and nativity, the cross and sacrifice get all mixed up in the gospel. When will we ever learn that nothing truly new, no large move of God occurs without some pain? Blood and birth go together.” – Bishop Will Willimon.
Today’s reading from Acts tells of the first deacon and martyr, St. Stephen. These readings seem to clash with Christmas and the joy of the Incarnation. The birth of Christ, while a wondrous affair, is meaningless on its own. Without the cross, the incarnation is pointless. Without self-sacrifice, even martyrdom, discipleship is meaningless. While it is true that salvation is freely given, we do have an obligation to live our lives in a way that pleases God. Sometimes that includes being martyred for our beliefs.
Are you willing to give your life for God? Could you pray for the people who were killing you? You may find the following prayer helpful:
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.