Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, one of the two sad days during the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Unlike the other sad day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec 28) commemorating Herod’s slaughter of anyone who might rival him, this day is bittersweet. For St Stephen, depicted for us in Acts 6 & 7, is a man full of the Holy Spirit who speaks boldly for the Jesus at the heart of this season. And his witness is so bold that he becomes the first, or one of the first, martyrs of the small early Christian community (“martyr” originally meant just “witness”).
Thus do death and life, violence and peace, falsity and truth, chaos and shalom appear and contend again and again in the Christian Story, and throughout this season of Advent and Christmas.
However the powers of commerce attempt to sentimentalize this time into mere sugar and fat dressed up in colour and light, there courses through it the thick force of Real Life, pulling us away from happy distraction to the Centre, the Core, the Christ who quietly confronts us from the manger.
Those who understand Christmas properly become like Stephen. And many throughout the ages and around the world to this day do, indeed, end up like Stephen.
Except, of course—as St. Stephen and St. Nicholas and Good King Wenceslas would smilingly agree—that isn’t the end.
Happy Boxing Day, yes, but far, far more: have a blessed Feast of Stephen.