Happy St. Stephen’s Day!

St StephenThe Christmas message can be dangerous. Why did the angry crowd stone St. Stephen  to  death? If you read the story in Acts 7 then you see that a lot of factors are at work: Stephen is confronting them with God’s calling to Israel, the gospel, and even their own sin. But the moment that causes them to “rush together against him” is when he says:

I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!

It is the Christmas message that finally riles up the crowd to kill him: the message that divinity and creation, heaven and earth, Trinity and Humanity, have been joined forever in the incarnation of the Word as the child born at Bethlehem.

What is it about this message that is so offensive to us? At some primal  level we would rather imagine God far away from us, sitting on some throne in heaven demanding our obedience, than admit the truth that God the Father has drawn us into her life through the humanity of the Son and immersed us in the loving life of the Holy Spirit.  God has drawn infinitely near to us in Christ and drawn us infinitely near to himself. That message is truly good news, if we will  receive it as such.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand: where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (Book of Common  Prayer)

~ Jonathan Stepp

6 comments so far

  1. Jerome on

    Good reminder that the incarnation is not only good news, it’s scandalous good news! Thanks Jonathan.

  2. Bill on

    The Gospel is “too good to be true” for us at times. I once read lore that Stephen was forced to the top of a city wall to publicly renounce Jesus and seeing a nice crowd gathered he proclaimed the Incarnate Word instead. Angry at this his captors apparently pushed him from the wall injuring him badly and the stoning was to finish the job and to shame him.

    • Jonathan Stepp on

      That’s interesting, Bill, I had not heard those details of his martyrdom before but it makes sense in light of other descriptions we have of stonings.

  3. Pat on

    I just read,this morning in local paper an article titled “Boxing Day hides the message of St Stephen”,it went on to explain the meaning of the holiday, as it started in Victorian England,”which postmen,errand boys, and servants of various kinds received a Christmas box of contributions from those whom they serve.” As St Stephen was chosen to minister to the poor,primarily the widows and their children,on behalf of the early church.
    The reason for his Martyrdom was then, as today ,the telling Good News of the Father Great Love of His children. As you say His humanity/divinity
    FOR US is too good!!
    “The contrast of the Feast of Stephen to the joyful celebration of Jesus’
    birth,and to the modern interpretation of Boxing Day, stands stark.”

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