Saint Stephen, the first Martyr
At first glance, today’s readings contrast strongly with those of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the joyous arrival of the infant Jesus. However, in both infancy narratives death is not far away. Too soon in Matthew’s text, the family must flee to the safety of Egypt and in Luke’s gospel, we are still in chapter 2 when Simeon prophesises that this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel.
St Stephen is identified as the first martyr, the first to ‘fall’. The events leading to his death in the Acts of the Apostles are dramatic, you can easily imagine it as a scene from a movie, the camera lingering on a figure in the background (Saul) who you know will become important later in the story. Stephen is portrayed as strong and wise, a threat to the existing power structures. He is feared because he is filled with grace and power and has amazing faith. As a disciple, Stephen points beyond himself to Jesus and is lead by the Spirit. The miracles and great signs he works come from God. The words he uses are not his own but God speaking in him.
The Feast of St Stephen/Boxing Day has traditionally been a day to focus on giving alms to the poor or those who serve us. Good King Wenceslas (really a duke from Bohemia) goes out on the Feast of Stephen. As disciples, perhaps we can use this day to reflect on how we follow or point to Jesus by our works and actions. Do we allow the Spirit to speak and work through us?
Alison Gore is a parishioner at St Paul of the Cross, Glen Osmond. She works in education and formation.