The Second Day of Christmas gives us a rather unique liturgical memorial: the death of the first martyr, Saint Stephen. Today’s saint is renown for his singular devotion to the Lord through adoration and service; he believed the unity of truth of the Good News given by Jesus; Stephen is recalled by the Church as being a deacon (see the Acts).
What is revealed to us in sacred Scripture is that Stephen became the first Christian to be killed for his faith in Jesus Christ. A predicted outcome by the Lord. Persecution was received as a consequence to living the intensity life and holiness proposed the Lord Jesus. The Church recognized that persecution as a clear sign that one is on the right path: if you follow in Jesus’ footsteps, you will meet the same fate He did. Saint Stephen gave his witness to Jesus and the Truth of the Gospel, but Stephen’s executions didn’t accept his testimony.
The Acts of the Apostles reveals that they “stopped their ears and rushed upon him” (7:57). What does stopped their ears mean? They would not listen to the reasonableness of the Good News. Convicted by truth, Stephen didn’t compromise and thus fulfilled the prophetic utterance that we read about in today’s Gospel. Historically, it was Saul as a young man, full of zeal for something other than holiness; Saul, later Paul, helped the executioners stone Stephen to death. Remarkably, Stephen died praying for his murderers.
Are we convicted by the Truth of the Incarnation? Can we follow and do what Saint Stephen did?
Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.
For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.
For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become the son of God?
Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.
“What worthy return can we make for so great a condescension? The One Only-begotten God, ineffably born of God, entered the Virgin’s womb and grew and took the frame of poor humanity. He who upholds the universe, within whom and through whom are all things, was brought forth by common childbirth. He at whose voice archangels and angels tremble, and heaven and earth and all the elements of this world are melted, was heard in childish wailing. The Invisible and Incomprehensible, whom sight and feeling and touch cannot measure, was wrapped in a cradle.”
— St. Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (300-368 AD)