On December 25, we celebrate Christmas, Jesus’ birth, where the infinite God becomes Himself one of the human family. It is a momentous occasion in the sequence of our Church year (and one which has captured the imagination of religious and secular society.) If you follow the Church calendar, you will notice that this feast is immediately followed by the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr (December 26), St. John the Evangelist (December 27), and the Holy Innocents- children murdered by King Herod in an attempt to wipe out the Messiah whom he perceived as a threat to his throne (December 28- see Matthew 2:16-18).
Stephen, a deacon of the infant Church, was unceremoniously stoned to death for his faith in Acts 6 as Saul (later St. Paul) looked on in approval. His ‘birth into eternal life’ comes the day after Jesus’ birth into our world, and it is no coincidence as the Heavenly reward given to martyrs (and to which we, as Christian people, aspire to receive) is possible because of Christ’s coming.
As I was praying and thinking of this yesterday, I read this:
“This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.” – St. Fulgentius of Ruspe