The house has been cleaned, the packages wrapped and then opened, the company’s been fed, we’ve laughed and cried and shared new and old memories, the house is a mess again. So often the first thought before we drag ourselves out of bed the day after Christmas is, “Now, what?"
The Church teaches that Christmas has only just begun. We discovered at Christmas Mass that even as our hearts and homes prepared for his coming through Advent, that the fulfillment is not in a day or an event. The fulfillment is more like a continuum. We now have one Savior and Redeemer of all. And by his Grace through the Sacrament of Baptism he has been lifted from the manger into our hearts. We are responsible for this Child whom we now carry within, the One who came to set us free and who leads us. Are we prepared for life as a disciple of the Baby Jesus? What does all this mean?
Today we honor the life of St. Stephen, the Church’s first martyr. We are reminded by this well-placed feast that being a follower of Jesus means first being willing to sacrifice – even our very lives. Stephen clearly lived the admonition of the Lord to deny himself and pick up his cross, just as the One he followed. Stephen gave his life for Love, as did the One he followed. Are we also willing to give up all for Jesus?
How did Stephen reach that point where, as we read, he was “full of grace and power and did great wonders and signs among the people?” In fact, we learn that no one could “withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.” In other words, there was no denying that he spoke with an authority not his own and that was hard for people to grasp. He spoke with such bold authority because he was a man of deep faith. He believed and he acted on that belief. Stephen allowed the Light of Christ to shine through him into a dark world. And in that submission, God filled him with wisdom beyond human capacity and knowledge.
Being a Christian comes with a price. Martyrdom is not the fate of all followers of Jesus. But all followers must be willing to die for their faith. In the United States, where I live, we do not often face the consequence of death for not renouncing our faith. But in other parts of the world, that decision for Christ is presented almost daily. In the United States the question more often presented might be, “Am I willing to lose my friends for Jesus?” Or, “Am I willing to live an austere lifestyle in order to give more of my time and talents to the poorest of the poor?” What am I really willing to sacrifice?
Decades ago, before we entered the Catholic Church, my husband was wrongfully accused by a church member and was sued. We were in court every month for a year. Ed and I only survived that year by daily praying together and surrendering to the will of God. In fact, it was when we reached the point of proclaiming from our hearts, “Even though you slay me yet will I trust you,” that we reached perfect peace. If we lost the case, we would have lost our livelihood, our home, and our reputation as Christian leaders in the community. It didn’t matter that we were completely innocent. We knew that the innocents in our justice system do not always win. When we walked into the two week trial, 13 months after the suit was brought against him, we knew we could return to our place in the community or be ushered out of town, effectively sacrificing all we had. I don’t dare compare our situation with that of those who risk their lives for the Lord, but the similarity is that we were being delivered up, so to speak, because of our position in the church. We walked in the knowledge that God was with us. And regardless of the outcome, he would remain with us. The trial was intense. The questioning was fierce. Yet Ed and I both maintained calm and poise on the stand as the prosecuting attorney continually got up close in our faces, literally, to drill us. We knew that the Holy Spirit provided every response. Each day we went home exhausted but not afraid. In the end, not only was each charge dismissed, they were dismissed by a 45 minute reading of the judge’s opinion that lauded my husband’s integrity in every area of his life. We were lifted up.
Our lives are meant to be a testimony to his presence and salvation. Let us pray for courage to take the Light from the manger to the world because the world can’t survive without him. We can be certain he will give us the words needed.
Love was born on Christmas Day. Let us rejoice as we show the world what that really means! What does being a testimony to Love look like in your life?