The Second Day of Christmas for most of us middle class to upper middle class folks is a day of recuperation from the over eating and the energy of opening presents. If Christmas Day falls during the week, then December 26th is a return to work day that probably reduces our festive attitudes and our enjoyment of the season. So, it is not at all a part of our Christmas celebrations, at least among American Evangelicals and Protestants. We start getting geared up to get back to “real life,” which is the secular way. But, the Incarnation has happened and in the midst of “real life” Christ is now present. That should mean something, right?
At some point, the Second Day of Christmas was designated the Feast of St. Stephen or St. Stephen’s Day. It was a day established in honor of the first martyr who gave up his life for his faith in and commitment to the Incarnate Son of God. That sounds like a downer during such a festive time, does it not? And yet, the church makes his remembrance a time of feasting and celebration because of the vision of Jesus he was allowed to have as he was killed.
St Stephen’s Day reminded the church of two things. First, as I’ve already mentioned, his vision of Jesus Christ “standing at the right hand of God” as he (Stephen) was being stoned reminded the church that truly Christ is both with us and for us. Remembering the first martyr and Christ’s loving attention over his life was a testimony that the prophecy of his name being called “Emmanuel — God with us” was an ongoing truth. The Incarnate Son of God brings the presence of God to us, with us, and in us forevermore. In the midst of his suffering and death, Stephen was given the vision of the reality of our lives in Christ: he is with us — and in a very special way.
Remember, Stephen sees Jesus “standing” at the right hand of God. While the rest of the New Testament references to Jesus in heaven and with the Father have him seated, Stephen sees him standing. Being seated is royal, ruling imagery, because in the ancient world the sovereign sat in repose as a sign of authority. A person standing at the right hand of the sovereign was usually an advocate for another person, or a messenger giving a world from the sovereign. Stephen seeing Jesus standing is a visionary testimony of what the Book of Hebrews declares about Jesus in relationship to us: He ever lives to intercede for us. Christ’s intervention on our behalf did not just occur on the Cross, but because He became incarnate, and died, and rose, and ascended his intercession and intervention on our behalf continues forever…FOREVER. God is with us in Christ — Emmanuel — in the midst of all of life’s challenges. What better time to celebrate the life and witness of St. Stephen than on the Second Day of Christmas — because the Incarnation is God’s presence with us and God’s providence for us.
The second thing that St. Stephen’s life recalls for us is the significance for our lives of being servants of the God who is with us…the Lord who ever intercedes for us, who will never leave us. Stephen’s primary role in the church was to make sure that the poor widows were not neglected and that their needs were met on a daily basis. He was a “deacon” — a servant in the church and of Christ for his little ones. As a sign of God’s self-giving love, Stephen exercised self-giving service as an expression of God’s love in him. Knowing God’s presence with us and love for us, when we really come to realize this reality and understand what it means, we will always express it in loving care and active self-giving love to others. When you know you are loved…how can you not love. Stephen even “serves” his executioners when upon seeing Jesus with him and for him prays for those seeking to murder him: Lord, do not hold this sin against them. Self-giving love must be what results from our knowing God is with us in Christ — Emmanuel — no matter what life brings our way.
On the Second Day of Christmas — St Stephen’s Day — realize that the Incarnation means that FOREVER God is with you and FOREVER God is for you. Yet, realize that unless this truth changes the way we deal with others — the needy and even those who seek you harm, not just those it is easy to love — then we really have not REALIZED Emmanuel.