st stephenThe teaching of the Christmas season is love, love in all its glory and wonder, the love of God to man, the love of man to God and in Him to fellowmen. Our constant problem is sin, which in every instance is lack of love, lack of appreciation of God’s love.  Immediately after we celebrate Jesus birth on Christmas day we enter the world of unthankfulness and hatred.

In the 12 Days of Christmas there is much we miss if we don’t pay attention and most of the time we don’t.  I have a book in my library that goes through every day of the church year and explains origins and prayers and readings etc.  Immediately after Christmas day we are transposed into the world of evil and hatred precisely because of God’s love.  December 26th is the day of St. Stephan.  “The early church held Stephen in high honor as the first martyr and in the fourth century it appointed December 26 as his special day”   The observance of December 27 as the Day of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist dates from the sixth century. And the Holy Innocents (December 28) have been commemorated since ancient times after the manner or order of the saints. The innocent babies that died in Herod’s evil rampage are considered Saints.  In reality, apart from Christmas there are no saints: the communion of saints is the holy church of the holy Child. Gal 3:26: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Stephan was a part of the first corporate act of the early church and that was to care for the needy and the poor among the church.  All that the Bible tells us about Stephen is in Acts 6: 5 to 8: 2; 11: 19; and 22: 20. His name heads the list of the first deacons of the church, with a special note added, telling us that he was “a man full of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5). See also Acts 6:10 and 7:55. Paul might have been thinking also of Stephen when he wrote Rom. 8: 14-18, with its repeated reference to the Spirit and to glory after suffering.  Stephen’s death by stoning was witnessed by young Saul, who later, in turn, in his maturity, became Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles. The persecution that arose in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen caused the Christians to scatter abroad throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, and Christian congregations were established in these districts. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian).  Here is the prayer of the day for St. Stephen –

Grant, 0 Lord, through the power of Thy Holy Spirit, that, like Stephen Martyr, we may be filled with Christian love toward all men and with the confident assurance of that faith which, also amid the sufferings of this present time, steadfastly beholds the glory that shall be revealed in us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Additional references: Lutheran Witness, Dec. 22, 1953, pp. 10, 13; Lutheran Chaplain, December, 1951, pp.38-40; Reed, Lutheran Liturgy, pp. 496, 497. Luther Poellot, CTM November 1954