A fight broke out Christmas afternoon at a Houston apartment complex when some kids stole a child's bike that his father had given him as a Christmas present. The fight soon escalated into a brawl in which dozens of people were involved, children were injured, and a police officer took a blow to the face. Merry Christmas. On Christmas Eve, at a mall in Louisville, KY, two women, for reasons unknown, got into a knock-down-drag-out fight a few feet away from Santa's lap. Merry Christmas.
And at tables around the nation, relatives who see each other rarely took advantage of this festive gathering to lob grenades of insult and provocation at other family members with whom they've been at odds for years. Aunt Helen called her niece a slut, and her niece returned the insult. Cousins Charlie and Jim, both well into their second six-pack, took their decades long disagreement outside until one of them wound up in the ER and the other in the county lockup. And in other families, harsh words were met with seething silence, insults with tears that dampened the pillow that night, and cold shoulders with frigid stares that concealed hot anger beneath. Merry Christmas.
On this, December 26, the day after the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus, the church celebrates a rather odd holiday: St. Stephen Day. Stephen was the first Christian to be martyred for the faith. When he preached that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, his enemies drove him out of the city and stoned him to death. As he fell on his knees, bloodied and battered, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them," (Acts 7:60).
It is good that we celebrate St. Stephen day on the heels of Christmas, on a holiday that all too easily turns into an argument or a brawl or a murder. St. Stephen day calls us all to repentance; encourages us to speak a word of forgiveness to those who have sinned against us; and to find life and healing in the One who, born in a manger, spoke from the cross these words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."