Wednesday, 26 December 2007

On the Feast of Stephen

‘Good King Wenceslas looked out,’ we sing in the popular carol, ‘on the feast of Stephen’. Today is the feast of Stephen, perhaps the most under-observed feast in the calendar. Its proximity to the feast of the Nativity is intended to honour Stephen, the first person to suffer death for their faith in Jesus of Nazareth — but in practice this proximity means that most people, even seasoned churchgoers, are taking the day off.

Stephen, though, deserves more than a passing commemoration.

Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew, described as ‘full of faith and the Holy Spirit’. In the earliest period of the development of the Church, when it had become too large for the Twelve to manage by themselves, he was chosen as one of seven men to look especially after the Greek speakers in the Church, and particularly to ensure that the widows received their share of daily bread.

The initial description of the role of Stephen and his six fellows is a servant ministry, and although not described as such, they are accounted as the first deacons.

But Stephen and the others were not limited to ensuring that the widows received their daily bread. Stephen did great wonders and signs, and disputed with other members of the synagogue. And so he was brought before the Council, and stoned to death.

In the Acts of the Apostles the author tells us two more things about Stephen. First, Stephen is given a lengthy speech in which he describes the great sweep of Jewish history, from Abraham onwards, all pointing towards the birth of Jesus, and in which he criticizes the leaders of the Jews for resisting the Holy Spirit, persecuting the prophets, and not keeping God’s law.

Secondly, the description of Stephen parallels that of Jesus in many ways: being filled with the Holy Spirit; seeing the Son of Man at the right hand of God, as Jesus promised he would be; commending his spirit to Jesus, as Jesus commended his to the Father; kneeling as Jesus did in Gethsemane and asking forgiveness for his persecutors.

Witnessing to Jesus by acting like Jesus in every way is thus seen by the author of Acts to be essential to the Christian life.

Posted by Simon Kershaw on Wednesday, 26 December 2007 at 11:16am GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

Thank you.

Posted by: Stephanie on Wednesday, 26 December 2007 at 2:54pm GMT

Thanks for this lovely piece.

Posted by: Davis d'Ambly on Wednesday, 26 December 2007 at 3:07pm GMT

Simon Kershaw's piece is enough to remind me that the Twelve Days of Christmas are not some romanticized time for cockle-warming, but a challenge to us who claim Christ's name. I await what he and others have to say about tomorrow, Holy Innocents' Day. (And make sure words politically charged like "abortion" and "fetal rights" are left aside for the moment.)

Posted by: Ren Aguila on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 1:06am GMT

This has been a beautiful Christmas, thank you to all those wise souls.

I was inspired by the Pope's speech, where he acknowledged that God's peace belongs with everyone and that everyone needs to be treated with a modicum of respect, able to love, live and work in freedom and safety (including women and children).

I was also delighted with both the Archbishop of Canterbury and York's sermons as reported in Ekklesia http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6491

It is wonderful to see key religious leaders remembering that God is master of all Creation, in however many multiverses there might be, and that we are called to love and honor that which is bequeathed into our trust. It is wonderful to see them remembering the stewardship responsibilities for this planet and its occupants, and that there is joy and reverence in being able to delight in Creation as it is manifested.

Humans are happiest when they labour and it is a labour of love. The line between what is work and what is recreation become blurred. Peace comes to those who have faith that what God has given them is sufficient unto today and that God will provide for tomorrow, just as God does for the sparrows.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 7:04pm GMT
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