Feast of Saint Stephen, proto-martyr
(Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22)
In the nativity narratives of both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels hints appear of the crucifixion. In Luke at the presentation in the Temple, the visionary Simeon reveals the fate of Jesus to Mary. When he says that her son will be “a sign that will be contradicted,” he is referring to the coalition of Jews and Romans who will crucify Jesus. In Matthew the reference to the cross is more obvious. From the time of Jesus’ birth the Jewish authority connives to kill him. For the same reason the evangelists hint of his death in the story of his birth, the Church juxtaposes the memorial of the first martyr, St. Stephen, with the celebration of Christmas.
Stephen is a Greek-speaking Jew elected with six others to administer the food needs of the Greek-speaking widows of the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem. Evidently the service they rendered was more than supplying groceries as he and at least one other prove themselves as exceptional preachers. In the full account of his execution Stephen gives a history of Israel showing how it leads to Jesus whom the Jews have recently crucified.
The inclusion of Jesus’ death in the celebration of his birth should temper our festivity. At the very least, we should be careful not to eat or drink too much. More to the heart of the matter, knowing that Jesus was born to bring us the love of God whatever the cost, our jubilation should include concern for those who suffer. They are bearers living in our midst of the same Jesus in whose coming we rejoice.