Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Then came Christmas, the third day . . .

The third day in the festival of Christmas is dedicated to the recollection of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Known from the book of the "Acts of the Apostles," Stephen was the first known to bear "witness" to Christ by sacrificing his own life. Of course the word "martyr" means - to be a witness for one's faith, cause or principles.

In the case of Stephen, the account relates to us that this was around the time that tensions had developed between the Christian and Jewish communities. Remember that in the earliest times, the disciples of Jesus worshiped together with the rest of the Hebrew community in the synagogues. They would then gather together themselves, for the "breaking of the bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

There was little or no thought of dividing lines between Judaism and Christianity. "They went to the temple area together every day, while in their homes, they broke bread" (Acts 2:46).

Acts continues to tell us some more history of the earliest communities believing in Jesus. In Chapters 6-7, we are introduced to Stephen's character. At first, he appears as one of the first "deacons" chosen to assist the apostles in their daily ministry, as the number of believers had increased significantly (Acts 6).

In chapter 7, Stephen is accused by we see Stephen defending himself before the Sanhedrin. He gives a marvelous testimony to the role of Jesus in fulfillment of the entire Old Testament history. However, the accusations against Stephen, that he has put Jesus and his teaching above the temple and Mosaic law, are true.

Ultimately, Stephen is executed. Luke places the scenario much in the same way as that of Jesus, with false witnesses brought against him and Stephen praying for his murderers, while asking the Lord to receive his spirit (Acts 7: 58-60).

With the death of Stephen, the differences between Judaism and Christianity began to appear. The community of disciples eventually took a firmer hold in Antioch in Syria, where the influences of the temple and the law were less pressing than in Jerusalem.

So, as the church continues to contemplate Jesus as a young child, it lifts up for the faithful, the first witness to make the ultimate sacrifice for the teaching that the Christ Child would come to express.

And so went Christmas, the third day . . .

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