Martyrdom of Saint Stephen by Giovanni Andrea De Ferrari (1598-1669)
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
The day after Christmas is the Feast of Stephen. I discovered this first through curiosity-wondering why “Good King Wenceslas” was considered a “Christmas” carol. The king in the song gives gifts to the poor, but the Nativity is never mentioned. But, of course, St. Stephen’s Day is the day after Christmas, so the king is responding in the spirit of the Christ child. St. Stephen himself followed closely after Jesus, in his life and in his martyrdom. The Apostles chose him as a man “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” to oversee the distribution of food to widows. He was selected to bring peace to a situation that was dividing the disciples – that one group of widows was favored over another. Not only did he serve tables, but the Book of Acts tells us he preached, and “did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Acts, Chapter 7 recounts one of the greatest sermons ever preached. This same sermon led to his martyrdom.
As he was being persecuted, [Stephen] looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God . . . And said ”Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55-56)
And they “cast him out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:58). Yet, Stephen’s death was not the end of his influence. After his death, persecution forced the disciples to leave Jerusalem, causing the message of Jesus to spread far and wide. And one of the witnesses to his death was a young man named Saul, who although he agreed with Stephen’s persecutors, became Paul, one of the greatest teachers in the history of Christianity. Stephen’s death, no doubt, was the seed of Paul’s conversion.