Feast of Stephen.
It is only when St Stephen’s Day falls on the Sunday after Christmas that its anomalous position in the calendar is noticed by many. The day before we were celebrating the Babe in the Manger, awe-struck Shepherds, Angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest”. We were full of Silent Night, Good Christian men rejoice, Joy to the World , O little town of Bethlehem.
And then the very next day it was brave Stephen being stoned to death for his faithful witness to Jesus, a scene of hatred, bigotry and violence. Why on earth, we may ask, has the Church put St Stephen’s feast on this day?
One old reason is summed up in the phrase from (I think) Fr Faber: “Over the Manger hangs the shadow of the Cross”. Very soon after the Lord’s birth, King Herod would let loose his soldiers to slaughter all the children of Bethlehem to make sure he got rid of the one who was being called King of the Jews. And the massacred children, now gloriously living in heaven, are honoured three days after Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
A more modern reason is that “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie” is anything but true today. The violence from both Israel and the Palestinians has made Bethlehem a place of fear and terror.
So it is right that the Feast of Stephen and that of the Holy Innocents follow so quickly behind Christmas. Our Lord said “Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice”, and funnily enough, we can do both at the same time.
That’s life; that’s Bethlehem; that’s Calvary.