Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
We all know this hymn very well—with those beautiful lyrics by the great Anglican hymn-writer and priest, John Mason Neale.
Well, today is the feast of Stephen—the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christain church.
St. Stephen is one of those saints that we find ourselves looking toward again and again as an example of proclaiming Jesus to the world.
In addition to being the proto-martyr of the Church, he was also a deacon and is still highly esteemed by deacons.
Being the first martyr, St. Stephen was, of course, as we hear in the book of Acts, stoned to death for his belief that Jesus is God.
In his persecution he experienced a theophany—a vision of God, and of Jesus seated at God’s right hand.
As he lay dying, he prayed the first prayer ever recorded to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
The word martyr actually means “witness” and truly St. Stephen is a witness to us.
Even in the face of opposition, even in the face of death, St. Stephen professed his faith in Jesus—in that which he knew was true.
He is an example to all us in that we are all called to be witnesses one way or the other.
Some of us are called to witness for Christ as St. Stephen did—with our lives.
Those witnesses are called to proclaim their faith in Christ by dying for their faith.
Even now in the world, Christians are being persecuted for their faith and all too often, countless numbers of Christians still die for Christ in those hostile environments.
And, while dying for the faith might seem to be, ultimately, a failure, we have to remember that the Church has flourished with the blood of the martyrs.
The famous motto—“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”—is a very true statement.
What would our Church be without those Christians who were—and still are—brrave enough to stand up against injustice and oppression and die for Jesus rather than give up their faith in Christ and take on another faith?
So, yes some are called to be martyrs.
Not all of us are called to be witnesses as martyrs.
But all of us, as Christians, are called to witness to Jesus by our words and actions.
Being a Christian, as we discover in the story of Stephen and all martyrs, is more than just going to church on Sundays or on Christmas and Easter.
It is more than doing dramatic things, like Stephen, for the Church.
Being a Christian means living out our faith every day of our lives, every moment of our lives.
It means living out our Baptismal Covenant.
In the Baptismal Covenant, we first of all profess out faith in God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We then take that belief and carry with us in our witness to the world.
We promise to “continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”
We promise to resist “evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.”
We promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”
We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor” as ourselves.
We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor[s] as [ourselves].”
And finally, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
So, on this Feast of Stephen, as the snow lays “round about, deep and crisp and even,” as we think about the witness of St. Stephen and all martyrs, let us remember that we too are witnesses, every time we strive, with God’s help, to live out the Baptismal Covenant in our lives and in the world.
So, let St. Stephen be your guide. Let the Baptismal Covenant be your Rule of Life.
And as God worked through St. Stephen to bring renewed life into the Church, let God work through you as well to bring continued life to the Church.