Today we celebrate the Feast of St Stephen. Yes, the one who was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death for his faith. Doesn’t quite ring with the Christmas spirit, does it? What happened to God with us, peace on Earth, goodwill towards men? I was pondering on this, and then read one of my readings for this morning. 2 Chronicles 24:17-22 Talk about a downer! It was a passage about how the people of Israel once again left God for idols, God sent prophets to them to bring them back, who they of course ignored, and God gets mad. So He prophesies through Zechariah saying, “Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.” Then the people get really mad and stone Zechariah. As he is being stoned, he says, “May the LORD see this and call you to account.” Yikes! I have to be frank, God kind of freaks me out in the Old Testament. So, I asked Him about it. What do I do with this God? Keeping in mind that the people who wrote these histories generally believed that anything bad that happened to them was because God was mad at them and was punishing them gave me a little room to ponder. The people in Israel seemed to see an angry God, and my reading of the OT leads me to that conclusion too. Who wouldn’t, when you read that God has forsaken His people because they forsook Him? Everyone has come to the consensus that we all deserve no less.
But that doesn’t make sense because God was constantly trying to win His people back. He loved them. He loves us. In fact, He loves us all so much that we found ourselves celebrating the arrival of God in humble human form yesterday. A God who loves us so much that He was willing to be with us in our suffering and mess, and even suffer Himself, to the point of enduring a brutal death even though He was innocent. And with love, as He’s dying this unjust death, cries out to His Father, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” And so, what we took as an angry God was One that pursued us relentlessly, sacrificing Himself for the love of us. A light shining in the dark! God with us! And now, we see a new way. God has not forsaken us, even when we have forsaken Him, and He has promised not to forsake us.
St. Stephen points us to this new way in Christ. He too prophesied and taught about God, and when the people got mad, and began to stone him, he took the way of Christ. As he looked up and saw Christ standing at the right hand of God, he was reminded that he was not forsaken. Unlike Zechariah, who called on God to bring justice, Stephen called on God to give mercy and asked that God not hold his murderers’ sin against them. And that’s what we receive in Christ – mercy. So on this Feast day, may we be reminded of the mercy of our loving God, and walk in step with Him as we offer mercy and love to those around us.