On the Second Day of Christmas–the Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr

“The Stoning of St. Stephen” by Annibale Carracci

Merry Christmas on this second day of Christmas! What? Second day? Wasn’t that on December 13th? Well, no, it wasn’t. The Twelve Days of Christmas actually start on the First Day of Christmas, December 25th. The Christmas season goes until Epiphany, which is when the Wise Men showed up. So, Merry Christmas! If you didn’t get your cards or letters sent out, there’s still time and you won’t be late! 🙂

Today is also a feast day because on this day we celebrate St. Stephen’s martyrdom, recorded in Acts chapters six and seven. Why are we celebrating the first martyr on the day after Christmas? After all, Christmas is about the Baby Jesus in a softly lit stable, all snuggled up in the manger. And today we celebrate the brutal death of St. Stephen? Who planned this out in the liturgical calendar?! Well, the Church did, and for a very good reason.

You see, although the story of Christmas is amazing (God became flesh) and beautiful (angels, shepherds, wise men), Jesus came to die. He chose to enter our lives as one of us so we could not only be saved, but also know that the life He calls us to live is possible. After all, if He’d simply appeared with a cape flying from His shoulders, we would have been awed and grateful. But when He asked us to take up our cross and follow Him, we’d be protesting that we didn’t have capes and superpowers. So, He came as a weak, helpless infant in need of every kind of care a baby needs. Yet He didn’t come just to be approachable and have credibility with His requirements for discipleship. He came to die. And He calls us to do the same.

Tomorrow will be the feast of St. John the Apostle. St. John is an “almost-martyr” because he survived his tortures and eventually died of natural causes (after suffering exile, too). Most of us don’t suffer the martyrdom of Stephen, but rather the long, slow path of life like John, learning to lay down every desire of ours in submission to the will of God. And isn’t that exactly why Jesus came? He came to do the will of the One who sent Him. He came out of love for us, but He also called us to follow Him, even to death.