Second Day in the Octave of Christmas
The feast of St. Stephen, the day after Christmas, is easily overlooked in our modern celebrations of the Christmas season. In spite of the liturgical season of Advent preparation, most of us likely have already spent weeks celebrating Christmas with various festivities and by the 26th we are ready for a rest! And yet, liturgically, the Christmas season is just beginning of the celebration. St. Stephen’s feast is my name day and very often I myself forget to honor and acknowledge the celebration.
So how does the martyrdom of St. Stephen fit into the joyous celebration of Christmas? Although many of our depictions of the nativity are warm and fuzzy, when we listen carefully, and really enter into the story, we know that Jesus was born under the Roman occupation, in poverty in a dirty stable or cave, and that not long after his birth the holy innocents were slaughtered by Herod who feared this new king, and his parents had to flee with him as refugees to Egypt to escape Herod. Jesus was born in a time of violence, oppression, poverty, and fear—he was born into the brokenness of our world that continues to this day.
Yet, the gift of the incarnation—Emmanuel, God with us, among us, in flesh—is that Jesus came to heal our human violence with God’s divine tenderness and mercy. St. Stephen, enfleshing Christ in his time as we are called to do today, in his faithfulness, suffered violence, just as Christ suffered crucifixion. And through Christ’s grace, Stephen also offered forgiveness and mercy to his persecutors. One of those persecutors was Saul, who through a later deep, personal, and merciful encounter with Jesus, would become Paul and proclaim the very message of God’s love in Christ that Stephen died for before Saul.
Let us also then, in the face of human violence, anger and hatred, enflesh and respond with God’s love and mercy, proclaiming the truth of God with us, making visible the light of Christ come into the darkness, trusting that it will continue to transform human hearts and thus transform our world.
Sister Stephanie Spandl, SSND
Adjunct Instructor, School of Social Work