It may seem harsh that so close to the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, we are hearing about the martyrdom of Stephen. The scene of Christmas yesterday was a small newborn baby and his joy-filled parents. It was a scene where shepherds came with great curiosity, and Angels appeared and sang. It is a scene we have witnessed over and over again in countless manger sets of every variety and size.
Today’s reading takes us to the end of Jesus’ life. Stephen is the first martyr described in the post-resurrection period. I would suggest that these two days are juxtaposed precisely to remind us the reason for the coming of Christ into our world. Jesus came for our salvation. We celebrate the God who loved us so much he dies for our sins. The little baby will grow up. The little baby will seek constantly to do the will and the work of the father. And the little baby will grow up to be a person who makes demands upon his followers.
St. Stephen’s feast which we celebrate today is a person who understand the demands of faith. The Acts of the Apostles describe Stephen as that first deacon along with others who met the needs of the poor in the community. But by his following the way of life that Jesus came to bring to each one of us, Stephen is called to give his own life.
We are called to remember that the incarnation was the beginning on earth of the great plan of salvation developed by God. Through his ministry here on earth, we have learned better how to care for one another. Through his ministry here on earth, we have learned better what it means to worship God and to live a life of authenticity. So it is right that placed before us are the events of yesterday, the birth of a little baby, and the events of today, the martyrdom of Stephen, that reminds us that our ultimate destination, and the ultimate purpose of the incarnation, our eternal union with God.