Today being the first Sunday of Christmas is also the Feast of St. Stephen. What we seem to focus on in the Church is his martyrdom. He is the Church’s first martyr. Even the prayer for the day focuses on his martyrdom.
O Glorious Lord, your servant Stephen looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors: Grant that in all our sufferings here upon earth we may love and forgive our enemies, looking steadfastly to Jesus Christ our Lord, who sits at your right hand and intercedes for us; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
Why focus on his martyrdom alone?
Stephen was appointed in Acts 6 as part of a team to serve a group of people being overlooked and marginalized. He wasn’t just a table server. In the Anglican Church, we view this group (generally) as the first deacons. It is ordained ministry. Stephen was known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. He is further described as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
And WHY is he the first martyr? He was full of grace and power. Signs and wonders were one mark of his ministry. His ability to teach and take on debaters who were upset with his preaching of the Gospel. He was targeted because he could teach the Word. Full of faith, wisdom, and the Spirit, he ministered powerfully among the marginalized and graciously took on those debating the legitimacy of the Gospel.
I would like to give thanks for the witness of Stephen outside of his martyrdom today. We can, my estimation, easily celebrate his martyrdom (because in the West we generally won’t have this worry) and then ignore the invitation to follow his example in LIFE.
I offer thanks to the Lord for the LIFE of Stephen. May we be living witnesses of grace and truth and power in our world. May we have our eyes on the marginalized of our world. May we take on the Gospel in our lives so powerfully it raises the attention of religious leaders and causes them the be a bit more uncomfortable.