Holy Mother Church in her wisdom follows the joyful celebration of the Messiah's birth with the feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, a deacon. Members of the synagogue challenged Stephen to a debate, but were unhappy with his arguments and accused him of blasphemy. They dragged him outside the city of Jerusalem to stone him to death. As they were murdering him, he had a vision of heaven with Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. As he died he imitated the Lord caying, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."
The Church gives us this reminder that the Christian life is not just the joy of Christmas morning, but the challenge of suffering throughout the day. We rejoice over the salvation freely offered by the babe in the manger, but the reality is He calls us to "pick up your cross" and follow. Christianity is not a soft religion filled with a prosperity gospel that promises sweetness and light. It is the invitation to become soldiers for Christ, spreading the gospel, not by a physical sword, but the sword of prayer and sacrifice.
St. Stephen, help us to imitate your courage and widsom and your spirit of forgiveness of your enemies. May we be willing to lay down our lives for Jesus.