theunfamiliarname

Homily for St Stephen 2010

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm

The angel’s song yesterday was “peace on earth”.

If you happened to be a tourist, let alone a shepherd in Bethlehem
you could not help but be struck by a pretty powerful proclamation
of something other than peace and goodwill.

The Israeli “separation barrier”, 9 metres high
slices through the holy city,
and even in the very heart of the Christmas story
we have a symbol speaking of separation and violence. And fear.

The naivety of our Nativity scene
is brought pretty dramatically down to earth
by the days after Christmas.

We have Herod’s scheming and the murder of Holy Innocents,
and of course today the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

We live in an age
with a renewed fascination in and fear brought on by martyrdom.
Much of it happens in the region Jesus was born into.

We read of young men, mainly, who on the promise of heaven
cause all hell to break lose.

The concept of martyrdom has a tarnished ring to it.
Yet the “take some of them with you” mentality of the suicide bomber
is totally alien to the kind of martyr we meet in Stephen.

Martyr means “witness”.
And what we see in Stephen is a reflection of the Christmas story,
when God in full knowledge of the cost and vulnerability,
speaks the divine Word, God’s very self,
into creation, into time, into our lives.
This act of proclamation God makes, this self-disclosure,
does not shy away from all the consequences of such love,
including rejection and ultimately the cross.
God does not hold back.

Someone once said to me,
‘a good Christmas carol always has a hint of Good Friday’.
That’s the difference between saccharine and supreme love.

Here is a young man who dares to speak his truth
in the midst of a hostile world.

And does not stop to speak
when he is challenged and violently opposed.
Instead, he prays for those who are his killers.
Following the example of Jesus from the cross,
Stephen pleads for his attackers.

And that prayer bears fruit, at least in one extraordinary case,
for present at the killing of this young man is another,
Saul of Tarsus.  The figure we know of as St Paul.

…And we see that Good Friday is not the end of the story.
Not ever.
Not for the self-styled martyrs of terror today,
nor for those who speak the truth in love
at great cost to themselves.

God has another word to say.
And the word of Christmas is the word of Easter:  Love.

Even confronted with the fear and hatred of the mob,
God’s word to us is unchanging, as is Godself: Love.

On a recent retreat, Bishop Kelvin suggested
that only two forces work within us, fear and love.

In the First Letter of John, we read that “God is love.
God’s love was revealed among us in this way:
God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him…
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;
for fear has to do with punishment,
and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We love because he first loved us.”

Rather more recently, Australian cartoonist & writer Michael Leunig, wrote
there are only two feelings – love and fear
there are only two languages – love and fear
there are only two activities – love and fear
there are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks, two results

love and fear, love and fear

May we learn to be as fearless as Stephen,
as willing to pray for those who hurt us,
and as willing to put ourselves into God’s hands.
As willing to surrender ourselves, simply and supremely, to love.

That is what it means to be a martyr, a witness,
to the Love come down at Bethlehem.

And all the walls in the world, all the fears they represent,
cannot silence the song of the angels.
“Peace on earth”, “goodwill”, “good news of great joy”.

Some more Leunig words to conclude with:
love is born
with a dark and troubled face
when hope is dead
and in the most unlikely place
love is born.  Love is always born.

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