Skip to comments.A thoughtful sermon for St. Stephen's Day
Posted on 12/28/2004 8:51:02 AM PST by sionnsar
The Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama has written another edifying sermon, which I'll post below. Note he establishes a relationship between Christmas and the martyrdom of St. Stephen; I admit I had never thought about such a relationship in this context. This sermon is well worth our time to read and study:
Sermon for the Feast of Saint Stephen
Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city. [Matthew 23:34]
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
It is noteworthy, and far from accidental, that the next day after Christmas Day commemorates Saint Stephen, the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ to shed his blood for his Lord. It is also noteworthy, and not accidental, that fully half of the eight days following Christmas Day have to do with the shedding of blood by and for Jesus: Today, we remember Stephen. In two days, we will commemorate the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, slaughtered for Christs sake because the holy infants existence was inconvenient to Herod the Great, who was a wicked king by any standard, sacred or secular. On the day after that is the anniversary of the murder in his cathedral church of Archbishop Thomas Becket because his continued existence as a witness to the independence of Christs Church from earthly control had become an inconvenience to Henry II, who by most secular estimates was a pretty good king. Then, on January 1, comes the Feast of the Circumcision, on which we are reminded that the Holy Name of the Savior Jesus the only Name by which we are saved was given him at the time he first shed his blood for us in obedience to the Scriptures.
This linkage of blood and babies and obedience to the Scriptures in the Christian calendar is not something that the Church just made up. Rather, it is a reflection of the pattern of Scripture itself, which reflects the character of the One who caused it to be written for our learning. It is a showing of the pattern of Christian life, in which life and hope emerge from the sacrifice of self in obedience to the Word of God.
This confronts us with a sobering question in this joyful season. However, this is not a question that is intended to dampen our joy, but to deepen it to its ground and thereby sustain it. It is a question of special importance for every parent, grandparent, godparent, pastor, and teacher indeed for every member of the Church to consider, and we might ask it in this way: In our attempts to equip and prepare our children for life as adults, are we clear about what is the most important thing we can do for them? Are we preparing them to love their Lord above all else until they die if need be to die for his sake? Are we preparing them to be saints? If we are so preparing them, then nothing can harm them. If we are not, then nothing else in this world can help them. It is that important that critical that urgent.
It might be thought strange to be hearing this in a warm church in a free, comfortable, and tolerant country, but if one thinks so, he hasnt been paying attention. We would do well to remember that in the last hundred years, more Christians have been called upon to lay down their lives for Jesus and have obeyed the call than in any similar period in history. Many of them were also residents of free, comfortable, and tolerant countries to begin with, but change swiftly erased those blessings and advantages and brought them to the point where they had to choose between Christ and Caesar, between true life and living death. There is no guarantee that we will not have to make a similar choice, and there is even less of a guarantee that our children will be spared it. So how do we prepare them?
In proposing an answer to this question, let me share with you one of my most vivid memories from the time of the first Iraqi War. During the time between the beginning of the aerial bombardment and the start of the ground war, one of the television networks broadcast a story about a Marine general visiting a small unit near the Kuwaiti border. Not one of the Marines in this unit looked a day over twenty-five, and the vast majority didnt look a day over nineteen. The topic of the generals talk had to do with why it is that a Marine would risk and, if need be, give his life in battle. At bottom, said the general, he wont do it for some abstract policy or ideology or even for a flag. He will do it for the members of his own unit, for the men he works with and depends upon and who depend upon him.
The general was simply passing on a simple truth that is very well known to every good leader military, civilian, or ecclesiastical and which is at least as true when applied to the Body of Christ as it is when applied to the Marine Corps. When they are being genuinely human, people will not give their utmost for abstractions, no matter how noble. They will not risk or give their lives for what, in the final analysis, are merely things. They will dare and die for people with whom, however indirectly, they have some sort of personal relationship.
A relationship with their Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing which will prepare us and our children to follow, if need be, Stephen, the Holy Innocents, Thomas, and all the noble army of martyrs through suffering and death to life everlasting. Disposing our children to enter into and develop and establish such a relationship is the most important thing we can do for them.
How, then, can we do this? First and foremost, by living it ourselves, by making it clear by deed as well as word that the most important relationship in our own lives is that we have with Jesus Christ not as an idea or a principle or an example or a memory, but as a real and personal Presence animating and directing our lives as the one Person whom we wish above and beyond all others to please and to be with as the One who is alive and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God in everlasting glory.
What can we do to make that clear to them? We not only pray for them, but with them. We not only tell them that the Bible is the most important of books, but we introduce them to its contents. We not only tell them to properly prepare for receiving the Lords Body and Blood in the Holy Communion, we properly prepare ourselves. We not only send them to church, we bring them. We not only enroll them in church school and in confirmation classes, we continue our own education as Christians. We not only tell them what is right and wrong, we do the right and shun the wrong ourselves. We not only tell them that we are stewards and not owners of what we have, we live by the standard that fact implies.
When we do this, we find that in preparing our children to love their Lord until they die and, if need be, to die for him, we are preparing ourselves to do likewise. In preparing them, we prepare ourselves. In teaching, we learn.
As daunting a task as this is, it is not beyond our capacity, because God does not command us to do anything that we cannot do so long as we abide in his grace and obey his Word. We have it within us to do this, because and only because we have him within us to do it. We have him within us because he who has taken our nature upon him and as at this time has been born of a pure Virgin has made us in himself a new creation, has adopted us as his own children, and has given us the ability to be daily renewed in that gift by his Holy Spirit, who makes us partakers of his own eternal Life. In that gift is the ground of the unshakeable joy out of which we can say to one and to all, Merry Christmas
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Funny, my calender sure as heck lists KWANZAA.
But if your calendar is listing Kwanzaa, I'd be a wee bit suspicious of it...
btt - linked to this thread from the Catholic Daily Caucus mass readings.