first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed
for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at
your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The first few days of the Christmas season are, well, gruesome. It's as if the church hired the Grimm Brothers to lay out the lectionary so that we won't forget that amidst the joy and celebration of the birth of Christ, we are never without those stories of death, especially violent death. The story of Stephen's martyrdom is that this young man was among the true believers, and an early deacon, spreading the news of Christ. He was unwilling to back down from his convinction in Christ, and, like Jesus, he found himself brought up on trumped up charges because he was calling out fellow Jews. The end for Stephen wasn't pretty. He was dragged out into the street and stoned to death, while Saul (later to be St. Paul) looking on.
On this night, perhaps it is best to take a moment to remember all those who are killed for conscience or have their lives cut short because they are following their call. For all those willing to put their lives on the line, we give thanks. We remember you, and we pray for those who persecute others that they may be delivered from their cruelty, hatred and revenge as we also ask that our hearts not turn to stone in the face of violence.