Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit…” Acts 6: 3-5a
Today is the Feast day of St. Stephen, early Christian martyr and among the first to be selected deacon in the church. We know almost nothing about Stephen but he is generally thought to have been a “Greek” (i.e. a non-Jewish) convert to Christianity. A modern
deacon’s responsibility is to “communicate the needs of the world to the church” and their ministry tends to be in areas of outreach and mission, as well as serving at the altar on Sundays, preaching, and building community. Deacons are faithful ministers of the needs of the world. Stephen, about whom we know so little, is killed by the religious leadership in Jerusalem because he was perceived to be a threat. Zeal, humility, and a clear vision of God’s gift of Jesus got a lot of folks into trouble in the early church and, in a different way, it still can.
We are just one day removed from the readings of Christmas and the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and, yet, we are talking about Stephen, the martyr and deacon. Why? Well, shallowly speaking, December 26 is his designated feast day. But, Stephen, attended to widows and orphans in and around Jerusalem, it is believed, as part of his (as yet unnamed) diaconal work, is a wondrous figure for this season of Christmastide. He cried out, in a loud voice, that the systems in place at the time were not working AND the coming of Christ had shifted the center of power from the Temple to Christ himself; homage, devotion, and life, for Christians, now moved through the One who had died and risen again for us.
Stephen notwithstanding, how has the coming of Christ changed our lives?
“So, what” if Jesus has come? What has it changed for you and me in the trenches of life? Anyone who would be a follower of Jesus Christ ought to reckon with the question: Christ has come among us but what has it meant to us? Our response should, perhaps, be something like, “Everything!” Christ among us means that we are no longer alone. Christ’s coming into our world means that we are saved, no longer and never separated from God’s saving grace and love. The baby in a manger means that we are everything to the God who comes to us in human form, vulnerable, needing care, and totally committed to showing us the way to God. Christmas is a beautiful time of year but it also makes us witnesses to what the baby in the cradle means: we are precious, holy, and beloved in God’s sight and that changes everything. Merry Christmas!