Today’s Word: ‘STEPHEN’ as in… the Feast of Stephen and the inescapable tension between good and evil, darkness and light, life and death.
Historically, the day after Christmas is set aside as the Feast of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Even as a kid growing up in the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, I knew this was a head-twister, incomprehensible, bonkers, even. I’d barely gotten batteries into whatever gift my parents had given me at Christmas (yesterday!) and there was talk of death. And not just a story of “old-age-he-really-lived-a-good-long-full-life” kind of death. But a violet death. It seemed so absurd.
And I wondered, “So the birth of Christ: it does change everything? Or doesn’t it?”
But as per usual, the community of Christ, the church takes the counter-intuitive approach by reminding us of the reality of brokenness and suffering hard on the heels of the joy of Christmas, the Nativity, the Incarnation.
This is illuminating! This seeming dissonance is deeply significant!
Advent reminds us of our longing for the light of Christ in the midst of our darkness. When we linger on this second day of Christmas – the Feast of Stephen to remember the connection between life and death, between the incarnation of Jesus and his crucifixion. Even at the cradle we’re forced to consider the trajectory of Jesus’ life toward the cross, a fact that is illuminated by the gifts of the Magi. Along with gold and frankincense, gifts fit for kings and priests, there was also myrrh, a fragrant spice used to prepare bodies for the grave. In the life and death of Stephen we turn the gem of the incarnation enough to see that Christ is born into our brokenness and suffering. That is the gift of the second day of Christmas! Christmas is about wonder, about the mystery of God entering our world. It is also about how the incarnation transforms our lives, so that even suffering and death can be endured with hope!
and so right along with Christ followers throughout the centuries, we celebrate and remember our redemption, but never forget the cost.