It always puzzled me why Christmas day is immediately followed by the celebration of a martyrdom, that of Saint Stephens. Seemingly, the idyllic peace and joy of our Christmas eve with the crib is broken. The liturgical colour of white is suddenly changed into a dramatic red. Why? Now we can see that this connection is so natural. The whole purpose of the God’s becoming man is to deliver us from our sins. The emotions we feel while leaning over the crib with the Child in it are underlined by this sobering truth. The key of the aforementioned connection is Saint Stephen’s spirituality. He prays for those who stone him to death... This spirituality is the extension of the spirituality of Christmas, focused on our redemption. For the Incarnation reveals the equally puzzling fact: the love of God to sinners. The reality and immensity of this love was manifest in the Saviour given to us at Christmas Eve. This Love is perceived in that this Saviour, in the person of Christ, as incarnate, laid down his life for his people to atone for our sins and ransom our souls.
In Saint Stephen, we see this unconditional love − praying for sinners and the enemies. They are stoning him in a rage, yet, he extends the love revealed in Christmas over them. And this embrace, just like the Crib with its feelings and humbling message acts on us, performs its miracle. The young man, called Saulus, ‘who was consenting unto his death’, soon becomes converted to Christ. We will know him soon as Saint Paul.
We can contemplate further the connection with the Christmas story. The witnesses who stoned Steven laid down their clothes Saul’s feet. The clothes of his judges connect us with the swaddling cloth of the Saviour, who judges rightly and bestows us life. The angelic face of Steven, in the moment of his martyrdom, connects us with the face of the Lord’s angels in the Christmas night, when they see and proclaim God’s Glory and point to the Star above the crib… Thus, as we can see it, in Saint Stephen’s martyrdom we celebrate the Father’s unconditional and puzzling love toward sinners; us.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..