- Christ Church - https://christchurchwindsor.ca -

Sermon for the Feast of St. Stephen

Blessed in he that cometh in the Name of the Lord

The three holy days of Christmas illumine wonderfully the great mystery of God with us. It is a blessed time but we easily misconstrue the nature  of that blessedness. “Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord,” Jesus says in today’s extraordinary Gospel. Extraordinary because it is a lament over Jerusalem, a lament about the folly and blindness and wickedness of our humanity, and yet, at the same time, a powerful witness to the very reality of sacrificial love. That is what blessing means here in terms of “coming in the Name of the Lord.”

“Love is in the nature of a first gift through which all gifts are given,” Aquinas notes. We live for the one who gives himself for us. The Feast of St. Stephen reminds us with great clarity about the real meaning and purpose of Christ’s holy birth. He comes as Saviour. He comes as the Lamb of God. He comes as sacrifice. Such is the real and deep meaning of love. To come “in the Name of the Lord” is not to act in our own interest, in our own name. It is to bear witness to another; in short, to God in Christ. A martyr is essentially one who bears witness to the truth of God. In its extreme form that witness is even unto death.

St. Stephen is not only the first Christian martyr but the proto-martyr, the one who shows us the very pattern of witness and sacrifice which is really about nothing more than Christ living in us. Stephen, one of the early deacons of the early and emerging Church, shows us the nature of the diaconate, the nature of the ministry of service. It is about a witness to God in Christ even in the face of ridicule and animosity. He is stoned to death but prays in almost the exact words of Christ on the Cross. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” he says even as Christ had prayed, “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” That last word from the Cross recalls Christ’s first word from the Cross which shapes Stephen’s last word. “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” echoing perfectly Christ’s first word, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

The celebration of The Feast of Stephen on the day immediately after Christmas is no accident of time. Nothing emphasises more completely the deeper meaning and wonder of the Christmas mystery and its application to us in our lives. “In his master’s feet he trod,” as the ancient medieval Carol, Good King Wenceslas puts it, and “on the feast of Stephen”. Christ comes to us so that we may come to him. Our blessedness lies in our coming, our doing and thinking all things “in the Name of the Lord.” This emphasizes yet again the radical meaning of Christmas. It is about the presence of God in our world now and always. It is about our witness to the truth that God is always God and always divinely like himself. Our good is found in him, in the one who comes, in the one who is Emmanuel, God with us.

Like St. Stephen, we seek the echoing of Christ’s words of sacrificial love in us. That is the blessing, the deep blessing of Christmas.

Blessed in he that cometh in the Name of the Lord

Fr. David Curry
The Feast of St. Stephen, 2018