Yesterday we celebrated the astonishing feast of the Nativity of the Lord. The birth of the Son of God, Emmanuel, the Promised One, the Messiah! Alleluia!!! What a marvelous event! What a joy! What a Mystery!!!
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen the First Martyr. What a come down! It’s so depressing! They… rushed up on him… They… began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man… What a change in mood! It’s awful!
Or is it? The Christmas readings speak of the swaddling clothes in which Jesus was wrapped. In yesterday’s “Living with Christ”, Fr. Corbin Eddy wrote insightfully: “The shepherds… wrap (the newborn lambs) in protective coverings… lambs without scar or blemish would be destined for eventual sacrifice in the temple” – a good thing!
The earliest reports of Jesus’ birth picture him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Christ’s Passion is foreseen within moments of his birth. Our Christmas celebration is not so much about what has been as it is about what is and what will be! God is with us! Jesus, the Risen Christ, will come back in glory to join us with him in everlasting peace and joy! We are reminded that we are not abandoned, Jesus is offering himself on our behalf!
Christmas does not promise instant peace and delight. Disciples of Jesus can expect difficulties, obstacles, even opposition and hatred as they seek to follow Him. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27) Stephen was thrown out of the city as Jesus had been taken outside the city. Stephen prayed: Lord do not hold this sin against them as Jesus had prayed: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen, reflecting Jesus, prayed: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Jesus who promised: whoever endures to the end will be saved; will hear us as he heard Stephen when we cry out with the Psalmist: Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, O Lord, O faithful God!
– Fr. John M. Lee, C.P., is Retreat Director at Bishop Molloy Retreat House, “The Passionist Spiritual Center in New York City”. www.bishopmolloy.org