a priest's musings on the journey

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Perspective: On the Birth of God and the Death of Stephen

“What shall we offer you O Christ, who for our sake has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by you offers you thanks. The angels offer you a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer you a virgin mother.”-From a Prayer for the Orthodox Christmas Vespers Service.

... and we offer the Christ much more than a virgin mother. Before the song of the heavenly hosts fades from our ears, the Church turns its face from remembering the beginning of a new life in the manger, to recalling the ending of a life in the remembrance of St Stephen the Proto-Martyr. The story of St Stephen's martyrdom, points out what we sinful, broken humans offer to Christ the most. God offers us love, hope, and a new beginning; God even becomes one of us so that in God the fears and sufferings of humanity can be sanctified and life-giving. But in return for God's gracious self-offering of love, we offer God hate, selfishness, and rejection. He offers us new life in Christ; we attempt to destroy life. He freely gives Himself to us, yielding his power to become a helpless baby; we violently take what we want from others, lording authority to overpower and oppress the helpless.

On the face of things, this all seems bleak and pointless. It would appear that the entire Incarnation idea was a complete failure. But, the face of things does not reveal the real story. A worldly reading of these stories misses the perspective that God has on this story. In the larger context of God's story, this story is not tragic at all. It ia in fact full of hope and promise. It continues the story of the child born in the manger. In God's Story, the death of St Stephen is not the ending of a life; it is the beginning of a new life in God. It is not a defeat, it is a victory: it is a participation in God's victory over evil and death. In his martyrdom, Stephen is the first to experience that Christ-liness that was made possible for us to experience when God became one of us. And in his story, hope burns even stronger among us- if this one had become so united with God in Christ that he could forgive his murderers in the same way that our Lord had done, then there is a chance for the rest of us to be reunited with God. If even in death Stephen could life up his eyes and see Christ coming in love to receive him, then there is hope that in the darkest moments of our lives, that we can see Christ coming in love to recieve us. Stephen's story reminds us that it is not only Jesus who is able to overcome evil and oppression in his weakest moments; but, all of us who have been joined to Christ share in his victory over sin and death. In our weak moments of insecurity, powerlessness, and despair, Christ is the strongest, and if we are open enough, it is in these moments that the light of Christ shines the brighest in our hearts. It is in our own sufferings that we have the greatest potential to transform the sufferings of others by sharing God's love and compassion with others in sacrificial love. God sacrificed his holy otherness to be one with us, so we could be one with him. Stephen sacrificed his life so that the Body of Christ would be nurtured by his blood, and so that his oppressors would be liberated from their own enslavements (in fact the fruit of this liberation is seen just years later in the conversion of Saul). What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of love and redemption? What sufferings will we expose to others for the sake of their healing? How vulnerable will we become in order to become united with those whom Christ seeks to bind to our hearts in redemptive communion? How will we allow the Incarnation to happen in our own lives? Where will we give birth to the Christ in our own world?
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 3:05 PM


I often compare St. Stephen's story to Eutychus' one, also described by the author of Acts.

God does not want our lives (and our deaths) to be futile. Certainly he wants us to live incessantly, to proclaim His gospel everyday and to be His witnesses on Earth.

When I think about St. Stephen, I remember other young martyrs our faith has produced: St. Lucy, St. Pancras, St. Sebastian, Bernard Mizeki, Dorothy Stang, etc...

St. Stephen's life was short, but abundant. Eutychus' life was short too, but not relevant. Maybe because of that he was given a second chance.

Maybe because of this God has given us a second chance every single day he prevents us from dying. He holds our lives and is on control... But He still wants our lives to be relevant, so, we will be His agents on this Earth.

Thanks for sharing this.

Love, Luiz.
Blogger Luiz Coelho, at 6:05 PM  

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