Saturday, December 26, 2015

What is Christianity without death?

A Reflection on the Readings for
December 26, 2015 - The Feast of Saint Stephen
The Day after Christmas we go from celebrating life, to celebrating death.  Isn't that a strange dichotomy?  One morning we are celebrating the birth of Christ into the world.  The image of a newborn child swaddled and nestled in a manger of hay or the arms of Mary the Mother of God give people a warm, fuzzy feeling.  Who doesn't love to look on the face of a cooing child?  People who often do not want anything to do with religion or faith are quick to join in worship on Christmas and Christmas Eve because this is what we want out of our faith.  That's obvious by the church shopping that goes in our culture...  You don't like the message? Keep moving around till you find one you do.

That's not Christianity though.  The church reminds us in this one simple setting of dates that Christianity began with the birth of a child, but it ends with death and resurrection.  The life of a Christian is not supposed to be a bed of roses.  It's not supposed to be all cooing and love.  It's messy.  It's hard.  It requires sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears.  It requires a cross.  Christianity without the cross is neutered.  It has no message. It has no death.  It has no resurrection.

Stephen knew this.   He went out into the square and he faced the people.  As a Deacon of the church he served at the tables.   He ventured into the public square doing his duty, that is making sure that all of God's people had what they needed.  He was a servant.  Feeding, distributing, helping.   The people who disagreed with him sought him out.   They looked for him to debate.   They followed him around trying to argue.  Stephen responded with logic, reason, and rational responses.   This made them angry.  Have you seen that before?   Someone wants to argue a point, you give them an answer they cannot refute.. they get angry?  They change to another point instead of acknowledging they were wrong?  In this case he had a vision and when he expressed this manifestation to the crowds.. the mobbed him, dragging him out of the city and stoned him.

Stephen was the first Martyr for Christ after His resurrection.  It's interesting to note though that Stephen prayed for his persecutors.  And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  In a perfect example of his love, in perfect imitation of His Lord and Savior from the Cross, Stephen prayed for their souls as they murdered him.  Stephen died with love.  No hate in his heart for those beating and stoning him.  No desire for revenge.  Simply loving them, even more than his own life. 

That's Christianity my friends.  Look at the fruits of his prayer?   Stephen in his love prayed for the men standing around.   We don't know what happened to all of them.  We do know that one young man, a certain Saul of Tarsus, eventually came to conversion and became one of the most influential Christians of the first century.  They threw rocks of stone, Stephen volleyed back boulders of love.  Saul consented to Stephen's death, Stephen consented to Saul's conversion and salvation.   Wow! Are you ready for that cross? 

That's what this Feast challenges us to do.   It challenges us to face the reality of Christianity.   It begins with taking up your own cross.   It starts with looking at your heart.   Are there any stony places left?  Are there any grudges you are still holding?  Any forgiveness that was supposed to be given that you are still gripping with white knuckled fists?  Today is the day to let Christ be born again into your heart, to stand up in the public square and let His Spirit give you the words you need to say.  Many times we don't know how to forgive... we don't know the right words to say.. we can't even describe it...  That's when we must turn it over to Him.  Let the Spirit speak them for you.. pray for the grace to forgive.. the grace to pray for them, no matter what the hurt...  Today.  Tomorrow may be too late. 

His servant and yours,