Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22
I suspect that at Christmas time many people slip away from the rejoicing crowd to cry by themselves, recalling in the height of joyfulness some deep sorrows. I confess that each year I do this at least once sometime during the day. For some, yesterday (Christmas), that day of great rejoicing, can be the darkest day of the year.
In the next few days we as Church slip out of the rejoicing to weep individually and collectively for our martyrs, those innocents who have died for the faith. True, we rejoice with the heavenly martyrs for their triumph over death and evil and yet at the same time we weep at their loss, the tragedy of violence, and the pain of separation.
Today, the day after Christmas, we honor Stephen, the first martyr for the faith. In two days we will weep with the women of Israel at the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. In these sorrows we will also remember many contemporary innocents who have been martyred for the faith, for their belief, for their unwillingness to compromise what is truest and deepest in them and in us.
Amidst the grief and sorrow there IS comfort and consolation. While Jesus reminds us of the coming persecutions that will face all who follow Him, He leaves us with a final word of comfort: “….whoever holds out till the end will escape death.” Not physical death—clearly the martyrs embraced death. But in embracing physical death they paradoxically embraced eternal life and have given US life through their grace and their examples. So too, when Luke records the history of Stephen and his death in the Book of Acts, he reminds us that at the end Stephen prayed the words of hope and consolation: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
At this Christmas season our material consumer orientated world encourages us to give more and more expensive gifts. The martyrs give the greatest of gifts, their very selves. We are asked to do the same, perhaps not physically in death, but indeed (and sometimes more difficulty) daily in dying to ourselves and living for Christ and for others.
In rejoicing sorrow may come upon us. In sorrow, may rejoicing always find us. This is the message of the Holy Martyrs, one of whose feasts we celebrate this very day after Christmas.
By Ray Bucko