December 26th is known as St. Stephen’s Day. Stephen first appears in Acts 6 when he was chosen as a deacon. The apostles were finding it difficult to minster to the needs in the growing church. They felt it best to focus on teaching and preaching, but the practical needs of caring for the poor had to be carried out. So they looked for men of character who could help with administration and “they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 6:8)
What a great description: “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” It obviously poured out of Stephen and he did his ministry well. Stephen soon found himself in difficulty with the local religious authorities – not because he was doing anything wrong, but because he was seen as a serious and growing threat to their misguided control over the people.
The religious leaders of the day “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.” (Acts 6:10) So, they accused him of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, who was actually the source of Stephen’s power and wisdom. He was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin where more false accusations were made. Stephen remained calm and clearly declared God’s message. For his actions, he became the church’s first martyr, stoned to death for his witness.
The church has chosen to remember him for his living acts of kindness and charity rather than for his heroic death. It was what he did with this life that made a difference. Stephen’s ministry was caring for others, giving to widows and orphans and helping the sick. Many acts of charity and service have been done over the years in Stephen’s name. Even people like Good King Wenceslas took notice of who Stephen was and followed his example.
It’s good we celebrate St. Stephen’s Day right after Christmas. After we have eaten too much food, spent too much on gifts and wasted too much time on doing nothing, our focus needs to shift towards others. What can we do to minister to the needs of those around us? What can we give to others who have less? How can we make it a part of our Holy Spirit lifestyle to share with those in need?
The last line of the carol “Good King Wenceslas” says:
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing
That’s a good word for today.