"Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power..." Acts 6:8
Yesterday we celebrated the Immanuel, God with us, the baby born in a manger to a virgin, among animals, because there was no room for Him anywhere. Today in the Catholic Church's readings, the beautiful Christmas story is followed by St. Luke's account of Saint Stephen, the church's first martyr, brutally dragged and stoned to death. Why the contrast? Perhaps because most of the world embraces the palatable, pleasant, engaging Christmas story of a mother and child. After all who doesn't love a story with myriads of angels singing, shepherds, cute sheep, and magnificent kings bearing wondrous gifts? Everyone has adopted the holiday, giving gifts, wishing everyone goodwill, baking cookies, drinking, and eating. Sometimes even the Christ Child is forgotten and forlorn amidst the tinsel!
How much more has the world forgotten that part and parcel of the beautiful Christmas story is the un-beautiful crucifixion? That the same baby born to an innocent virgin would be, after 33 years, beaten and bruised, his face unrecognizably swollen and bloodied, his back lacerated by whips with bone fragments? Jesus told his disciples that they too would be brought to trial, and flogged. They too would be called to witness on His account (Matthew 10). We may never be flogged, beaten, or stoned to death, but we should at least witness on His account! If we are brought to trial for being a Christian, will our words and actions find us guilty just as Saint Stephen was found guilty?