Good King Wenselus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen. That was the first I had ever heard of this day. “What’s that,” I asked my mother.
“It’s the day after Christmas,” she said.
After doing some research, I discovered who St. Stephen was, the first martyr of the church.
What a dreadful thing, I thought.
Why would they let such a day be in the Twelve Days of Christmas?
This is the time of year when we are to be warm and merry.
This is the time when we can keep unpleasantness at bay for just a little while.
This is the time we allow ourselves to avoid the trials and chances of life.
So for a long time, St. Stephen’s Day has been put on the shelf for me.
It is hidden away in the Christmas carol and replaced by the much more Christmasy “partridge in a pear tree.”
Isn’t that better?
I didn’t really revisit St. Stephen until I went to college.
The local Catholic Campus Mission was called St. Stephen’s.
I avoided it pretty well for a while but then it was announced that there would be a Taize service there.
Taize worship is a wonderfully simple, song and silence oriented service filled with candle light.
It’s warmth and familiarity stirred me up enough to want to go.
So as I walked into St. Stephen’s in Cedar Falls, I was immediately confronted by a painting.
It was a modern depiction of the martyrdom of Stephen.
A young man with blue jeans on was receiving the stoning with pain and dignity.
I was arrested by the sight.
It was somewhat gruesome.
And I’m still not sure what I think about it but it has stuck with me.
As I continued to research the Feast of Stephen, I discovered that St. Stephen’s Day predates the Christmas. No, not the event of the Word becoming Flesh but the creation of a day to remember that event.
Christians were remembering to keep the Feast of Stephen long before they had Christmas.
As we live out these Twelve Days of Christmas the focus should be on the incarnation of Jesus.
It is a season in which we remember that God is love; love is incarnate in Jesus Christ.
But St. Stephen’s Day reminds us that:
We as the church are a continuation of Christ’s incarnation.
And as Christ taught us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
As we remember Christ’s moving toward the world’s pain we should not see it as an opportunity to move away from it.
We are called to move toward it with Christ, and to heal it with all that we have, with our whole life.