Day 2: December 26: Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr
Acts 6:8-7:2, 51-60
The most exciting thing I have learned in reflecting on the Christmas season is that Christ is Incarnate in me. This reality reminds me of the importance of living a faithful life that points to Jesus. So how do we begin to live into this reality? A place to begin is today’s celebration: the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. After reading today’s assigned passage, it might seem strange that we would celebrate a martyr as a part of Christmas. St. Stephen’s life, however, is an excellent example and answer to the question of how we ought to live knowing that Jesus lives within us. This day is also commonly called Boxing Day, and it was the day where families celebrating Christmas would give gifts to their servants and the poor. These acts of generosity to the poor are the way this day is celebrated in memory of St. Stephen who cared for the poor in the Name of Christ.
In the time surrounding Jesus’s life, there were many who were blinded by darkness because of their pride and ignorance. These people denounced the prophecies about Jesus, refused to accept Him as the Messiah, and persecuted His people. Regardless of the persecution, Jesus’ disciples continued the spread the word of God. As a disciple, Stephen was chosen by the apostles to be part of a special group of ministers who had the responsibility to preach and teach. He was chosen specifically because of his wisdom and outstanding faith in Jesus. When met by opposition and danger, Stephen did not cower away or fall silent. Instead, he continued to proclaim the truth about Jesus without fear. He died preaching, and as he was being stoned to death, Stephen saw Jesus and knew that He was with him, so much so that he embraced his death and forgave those who were murdering him. He lived his life in a way that pointed towards Jesus and reflected His life. In Acts 7:59-60, we see that even his humiliating trial and death reflected the way Jesus lived as he offered his spirit up to God and prayed for forgiveness to be given to his killers.
Oftentimes, we can find ourselves becoming lazy and content with our sins. We need to remember that Jesus is in us, and we should live accordingly to bring Him glory. This Christmas season is a great time to reflect on Christ who lives in us, and we can use today to start practicing showing kindness and care to others just like Stephen did. Stephen and other martyrs are celebrated during the season of Christmas because their lives are reminders that the incarnation of Jesus is here on the earth and in His people. Stephen saw Jesus and lived out his life demonstrating his faithfulness to Him even to the point of death. Like Stephen, we too are called to faithfulness by Chirst’s presence in us, and this faithfulness calls us to bear witness to truth and to serve our neighbor.
Prayer of the Day:
Dear Lord, we thank you for the opportunity to celebrate your son Jesus this Christmas season. We thank you that He is living within us, and we pray that we will spend each day showing kindness and love to others to demonstrate Your love for them. We pray that we will bring glory to you in the way that we live, just like Stephen did, and we thank you for your mercy and love. Amen.
St. Stephen’s Day has also come to be known as Boxing Day. The tradition of Boxing Day began with boxes being used to collect money for servants and the poor. These boxes would be placed in churches or carried around by the poor seeking aid. This tradition evolved into a day where masters would give their servants a day off of work after a busy Christmas Day. The masters would send their servants home to their family with boxes of gifts and food. Today, Boxing Day is still celebrated in many of the commonwealth countries such as Canada or Australia. Modern Boxing Day is celebrated with sporting events and races for charity. Many people get the day off and spend the time with their families. A few ways to participate could be volunteering at a local food bank or soup kitchen for the day. Making thoughtful gift boxes for local workers like garbage collectors or postmen is also a common activity. Leftovers are usually on the menu for the Feast of St. Stephen as it is the day after Christmas. A typical meal for this day would be made from whatever ham, turkey, or other Christmas foods are leftover from the previous night’s meal. A popular Christmas song to be enjoyed on this day is “Good King Wenceslas”, which is actually about the Feast of St. Stephen. It tells the story of a Bohemian king who goes out in the harsh cold of winter to care for a peasant on the day of St. Stephen. This catchy Christmas hymn celebrates serving others, which is the perfect message for the Feast of St. Stephen.