Fri, 25 December 2020
O first martyr,
model of Christ’s love
and bearer of His Holy Spirit
in wisdom and in truth,
you who spoke as the Lord Himself
and died as He died,
with the forgiveness of your persecutors
upon your lips
and utter trust of the Father
in your heart –
pray that we too
will find the grace and strength
to commend our lives
into the Father’s hands,
never holding bitterness
toward those who destroy the body,
who would chain the Word,
but ever loving every soul
even as you have done.
O let our hearts be set on Jesus!
let them bleed as His own,
that united in Heaven with Him we shall be
with you in the glory of God.
Fri, 25 December 2020
(Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59; Ps.31:3-4,6-8,17,21; Mt.10:17-22)
“They proved no match for the wisdom and spirit
with which he spoke.”
The world cannot stand up to the Word of God; even death has no power over those who trust themselves to His Spirit.
A model of faith is Stephen. A perfect trust in the Lord made this martyr shine before the persecution of men. He made the Lord his “rock of refuge” and so the Lord did “lead and guide” him even unto heaven, hidden in “the shelter of [His] promise from the plottings of men.”
It is this trust Jesus speaks of in our gospel when He warns His apostles beforehand of the persecution which awaits them. He tells them that when they are dragged before rulers to “give witness… on [His] account”: “Do not worry about what you will say or how you will say it… the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.” And it is this trust, even unto death, that Stephen exemplifies so perfectly.
David echoes Jesus’ words on the cross in our psalm: “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” and Stephen lives them in our first reading. While being stoned to death he prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (and proceeds to forgive those who kill him). And so this feast of our first martyr follows our celebration of the birth of our Lord, for it is in this world we are handed over to death, and it is in this world we must suffer in love. Entirely we must trust ourselves to the care of God to find the vision of heaven – “I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand” – which becomes Stephen’s own.
The words we speak, if they are blessed by God, will bring us inevitably unto heaven. If it is the Spirit who works in us, what need we fear? For what is more powerful than He? Where is greater truth to be found? And so, to whom else should we turn? “Whoever holds out till the end will escape death,” brothers and sisters. Though “hated by all” for our love of Jesus, if we continue ever to love even those who hate us, His Spirit will lift us unto Him and provide all we need, in words and works, to conquer the evil of this world.
May the sweet blood of Jesus cover all His children and bless their witness to Him.
Written, read & chanted by James Kurt; produced by Carie Fortney.
Music by Carie Fortney; used by permission.
O LORD, by your power we escape death
and find your glory.
YHWH, let us take refuge in you, in your Son, and in the Spirit, and we shall never die but be raised to life in glory with you forevermore. May your Spirit speak through us and we lay down our lives with your Son.
A crown awaits those who love as you love, dear LORD, who follow in the way your Son has marked out for us. If we speak your truth, if we trust in you and do your will, you will protect us even from death – you will save us from the plotting of men, and we will stand at your right hand even as the stones rain down upon our heads.
St. Stephen, pray for us this day that we will be led by the Spirit of God and be unafraid of speaking before the rulers and kings of this world. May our blood be joined with your own and so we, too, be one with our Savior.