Reflections: December 26, 2020
St. Stephen, Martyr
By Bradley Drew
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." (Acts 7:59-60)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. "We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we. . ." "We interrupt this Christmas cheer to bring you a special report: Stephen was murdered today, becoming the first martyr for Jesus." Talk about an unwanted intrusion into all our Christmas cheer, right? No, this is actually quite helpful. The first day after Christmas serves as a reminder that the true joy of Christmas will always be unwanted. Even God's chosen people resisted it. "You stiff-necked people…you always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). The baptized, too, must confess that their sinful nature does not want them to see His kingdom coming like this (Small Catechism: Creed, Third Petition).
Thank God, the true joy of Christmas is not found in any difference Christmas makes in us. As wonderful as that change can be, it is still, in this life, far from the righteousness required by the Law. The true joy of Christmas is found in the forever change it has made in God. With the birth of Jesus, God has taken us into Himself and promised Himself to us as our Savior, our God, our heavenly Father. Jesus' death for us upon the Cross is the exclamation point of that promise. It's why Jesus preaches the Gospel to His executioners, "Father, forgive them!" (Luke 23:34). It's why Stephen does the same, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60). Does the Father listen? The Father always listens to the Gospel, because He always has His eyes glued on Jesus and the promise of His Cross. That's good news for us, because it's the same Gospel Jesus speaks to us every day in Baptism. It's the same Gospel Jesus speaks to us every time God's Word is proclaimed to us. It's the same Gospel Jesus speaks to us at His table. "Father, forgive them." "Father, don't hold this sin against them." Does the Father listen? Yes. For the Father always has His eyes glued on Jesus and the promise of His Cross. That's the forever Good News promise of Christmas. For all. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Collect for the Feast of St. Stephen, Martyr)
-Rev. Bradley Drew is the pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, LA.
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