Commentary on the Gospel of
Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for people” – Luke 2:10
The Christmas season brings the hope and joy that Luke alludes to in his admonition to not be afraid. Today’s readings, especially the passages from Acts and Matthew might at first look seem to contradict the spirit of this season.
A deeper meaning of God’s gift in the Savior Jesus Christ however links the promise of joy at the birth of Christ with the reality of our challenges in the world and advancing His teachings and God’s will. Jesus warned his disciples in Matthew that they (and we) should prepare for persecution. Christ predicted troubles, not so they would not be caught unaware, but that the challenges might confirm their faith. He also tells them who will cause their pain. People who persecute others are worse than feral beasts in that they prey on their own kind. As disciples of Christ we must think as much of how to do well, then just how to speak well. In case of great peril in our world, we the followers of Christ may go out of the way of both physical or emotional danger, but we must not go out of the way of our duty to serve the kingdom. It is our duty, not only to believe in Christ, but to profess that faith, in suffering for him, when we are called to it, as well as in serving God’s kingdom.
The example of St. Stephen in Acts is one for us. To boldly proclaim the truth of God’s kingdom and suffer death is not likely a scenario we will encounter in our worlds. But Stephen the Martyr’s faith in allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through him, his acceptance of his fate, and his confidence in the end result (“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”) should be our guide as we face our own pilgrimage.
The joy Luke proclaims at the birth of Jesus is not that we will avoid pain, persecution and suffering but that we shall overcome these challenges through the power and grace of Jesus Christ.