A wonderful reflection from Jim Kushiner, Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James: The Truth About St. Stephen’s Day
Dec. 26, St. Stephen’s day in the West (Dec. 27 in the East) is also known in some countries as “Boxing Day”–there are various explanations for the name, as well as various customs–some may date back to late Roman times and the collection of funds in boxes on St. Stephen’s Day.
My thoughts today center on St. Stephen himself, proto-martyr. What has St. Stephen to do with Christmas?
We think of Stephen as one of the first deacons, and picture a practical man. Yet, says Luke, he was “full of grace and power,” and “did great wonders and signs among the people.” At his death, this deeply spiritual man saw the man Jesus standing at the right hand of God. No apostolic witness prior to this makes such a claim. The apostles had seen Christ ascend, but it is not said that they saw into heaven itself. What’s different here?
Martyrdom. The supreme witness of the martyr is that he grasps, by charism of the Holy Spirit, we should add, the fullness of his life in Christ: the martyr is keenly aware that he belongs to a different world by virtue of being in Christ, and that he is “not of this world.” His faith is full. Stephen saw his true home just as he was about to depart from this world. He saw, as it were, the Big Picture.
The truth of Christmas is not just Christ’s Birth, but the full arc of His salvation, as we sing, for example in the Christmas song, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice!”–“He has op’ed the heavenly door and man is blessed evermore.” The door opened is the one to paradise, which Christ promised to the Good Thief. St. Stephen, first martyr, witnessed not only this open door, but also the One who is Himself the Door. Jesus is the Way, and Stephen saw Him as the final destination of his own way.
On the day after Christmas, remember what St. Stephen saw. Christ is our destination, too. We, having “an assurance of things not seen,” may also see this by faith. “Christ was born for this, Christ was born for this!”