Merry Christmas, and Happy St. Stephen's Day!
Christmas is not a single day, but a 12-day feast that runs from December 25 to January 5, culminating with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. There are several feastdays during this joyous season of Christmastide. Today, December 26, is one of them: the feastday of St. Stephen.
The story of Stephen is found in Acts 6-7. He was the first deacon, one of seven leaders chosen to care for the poor in the early Jerusalem church. He was also the first Christian martyr. It’s customary on this day to serve others, especially those who may be overlooked or neglected, just as St. Stephen did. Mark this day by giving to the needy, volunteering with your church or local charity, and showing hospitality to neighbors.
Prayer for the day
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)
Scripture readings (lectionary)
The best known carol that mentions St. Stephen's Day is "Good King Wenceslas," which begins: "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen." The last lines are:
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing
These words recall Christ's teaching that "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40). They are words that Stephen himself lived. One of my favorite renditions of this song is by the Irish Rovers:
- Our essay, "Following the Example of Saints"
- "St. Stephen" (from Catholic Encyclopedia), including this line: "Little did all the people present, casting stones upon him, realize that the blood they shed was the first seed of a harvest that was to cover the world."
- St. Stephen in Christian art (from Vanderbilt Divinity Library)