From Boxes to Forgiveness ~ The Feast of St. Stephen the Martyr ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Liturgical colour: Red.

Reading 1: Acts 6:8=10, 7:54=59

R Psalm: PS 31:3CD=4, 6 And 8AB, 16BC And 17.

Holy Gospel: MT 10: 17=22

So now our Lord and Saviour is born! All the Turkey and trimmings have been eaten, and many people head to the stores, looking for the latest cheap bargains. Around the world, there will be people buying things in boxes. And so today we celebrate The Feast of St Stephen the Martyr, this also has the alternate name of ‘Boxing day’. Boxing day is not about shopping, it is a day where we give boxes of gifts and food to the poor and needy in our society. It is a day of showing the Lords love to the less fortunate. But what has all this talk about boxes got to do with today’s feast of St Stephen?

St. Stephen was called by the Apostles at the dawn of the church from among seven Greek men who were of good reputation, who were filled with Spirit and who had wisdom. They were the first Deacons of the Church. They oversaw the welfare of the members of the church, they gave care to the poor, for widows and for orphans. This is the link that I see with the true meaning of the alternative name of ‘Boxing day’, about giving care and welfare.

According to tradition, Stephen was a young man, most likely still in his teen years. He was full of grace and power. He performed many miracles amongst the people in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This however, did not go down well with those of senior rank in the temple court, and various synagogues would challenge Stephen with many debates and arguments, however, Stephen would always come out of them on top every time due to being filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. This led to anger and before much time had passed, Stephen was charged with blasphemy, taken to the Sanhedrin to defend his case, which he did with great eloquence.

Stephen began with the promises given to Abraham and went all the way to the building of the temple during Solomon’s reign, before then directing his sights on the Sanhedrin itself. ‘How stubborn you are, heathen still at heart and deaf to the truth! You always fight against the Holy Spirit. Like Fathers like sons! Was there ever a Prophet your fathers did not prosecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, and now you have betrayed him and murdered him, you who have received the law as God’s angels gave it to you, and yet have not kept it! ‘ (Acts 7:51=53).

This led to a fit of anger and fury and the council dragged Stephen to the edge of the city to stone him to death, he had no true trial nor verdict. But Stephen still kept his faith until the finish, having a vision of the heavens being torn open with Jesus standing there at Gods right hand.

Stephen’s last mortal words were pleas to God for the forgiveness for his persecutors, that those sin would not be held against them. St Stephen is the Proto=Martyr, This is because he was the first victim of persecution of the church that is mentioned after the ascension of Jesus into heaven.

Life’s fulfilment =the eternal heavenly banquet rests squarely in God’s hands. This leaves us as children of God to love our neighbour, to care for this world, and to seek those things which make for peace, for joy, and for salvation. Stephen is such an excellent example for us to follow in our daily Christian lives, both in the way he cared for the poor and needy, and also by the way he forgave his persecutors and even prayed for them. May we strive to imitate the values in the life of St Stephen, for the glory of God within our own lives.

Let us pray:

Grant, Lord, we pray that we imitate the truth of the Christian life we lead following the example of St Stephen the Martyr, who we celebrate today. Mav we, as he did, love and care for the needy in our society in your ever=loving name and to your glory, and that also like St, Stephen, we can forgive and pray for forgiveness for all who may harm us. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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