Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas – A Study in Contrasts

Feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr

By Colleen O’Sullivan

When they heard (the wisdom and the spirit with which Stephen spoke), they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him.  But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they dried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.  They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.  The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.  As they were stoning Stephen, he called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  (Acts 7:54-59)

Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety.  You are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.  (Psalm 31:3cd-4)

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing.
Glory to the newborn King.
(from Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Charles Wesley, 1739)

Yesterday, we knelt at the manger in adoration of the Christ child.  Today, we stare in horror at the first grim martyrdom scene.

Yesterday, we witnessed to the Light come into the world.  Today, we see the darkness that struggles to overcome it.

Yesterday, we gathered with family and friends, exchanged gifts, shared a bountiful meal.  Today, we are reminded that even as we are rejoicing, wars are being fought in faraway places and people are dying, some because they are Christians.

We ask, “Why do we have to have such downbeat Scripture readings today?” We want to stay with the glow of Christmas for at least a few days, we protest.  Maybe we didn’t understand what we saw in the stable in Bethlehem.  Yes, Jesus looked like any other newborn.  He cried like all the rest of them to be changed and fed.  Yet within that tiny scrap of humanity God sent to live among us was contained the greatest power ever known.

Christmas isn’t about the cuteness of the infant Jesus.  It’s about God come to share in our humanity, Love and Light spilling out across the land.  It’s about seeing in the babe the one who grows up to offer us healing and forgiveness, the one who loves us so much he gives his life for us on the Cross, the one who offers us a place with him and his Father for all eternity.

Jesus asks that we live as he died – for others.  And that’s what St. Stephen was doing in our first Scripture reading.  His job in the fledgling Christian community was to distribute alms to the widows, to look after those who had no one else to care for them.  He truly lived as Jesus did – for others.  He died as Jesus did, committing his spirit to God.

St. Stephen prayed for his persecutors.  As you continue to celebrate the Christmas season with family and friends, take a few minutes to consider who or what would like to derail you from your faith and pray for them.

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