It seems after four weeks observing Advent, we rightly anticipate the season of the Christmas feast, and that celebration does begin with the greatest amount of pageantry anyone will see all year. The grandness of Christmas is often so spectacular, it often masks the true meaning of Christmas. Christ’s Nativity can get lost in the lights, the visual displays, the food, and the wrappings of all sorts of earthly pleasures. Since in modern society those trappings of Christmas frequently occur before the true season, many practicing Christians shy away from those Advent festivities so that they might wait for the true Christmas. When that Christmas day does come, many have been well prepared for the upcoming festivities, and we do indeed celebrate on Christmas day. Then though comes the day after Christmas and we are ready to continue that celebration. The problem is the day after is the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first saint to be martyred for the faith by stoning. The stoning of a human being can put an end to any celebration, even Christmas, and especially when the one stoned was a Christian. One asks then, but why place this day right after the biggest and most visual feast day of the year. It stops one in their tracks, one must pause to think.
The placement of feasts throughout the year is not arbitrary, and this feast of Saint Stephen was purposely placed the day after the Nativity of Christ. The birth of Jesus Christ and the death of Saint Stephen are linked. Saint Stephen was martyred for his faith in that Christ Child, and in Christianity to die for Christ is to be born in Christ. Stephens death on earth as a martyr in Christ, begins his birth in that kingdom of heaven. Iconography, for those who view Christmas art, makes this link clear. The swaddling clothes of baby Jesus bear a remarkable resemblance to the burial shrouds of death. Christ’s Nativity then takes a similar appearance to Christ in the tomb. As Jesus is swaddled in the cloth of the earth, Stephen is swaddled in Christ. Birth and death are linked; birth,death , and resurrection even more so.
This day also reminds one of the world that Christ came into, it is a world that needed that Child to heal its wounds and to restore it. Saint Stephen is a reminder of our damaged world, and also a sharp reminder of the sorry state our lives are in. It is a reminder of the Christian mission, and a reminder to balance the feast with service to the Christ we are celebrating. Saint Stephen indeed celebrated his Lord and served him gladly till his last breath. Saint Stephen is a reminder of the true Christmas celebration, one that is joyful and purposeful.