This year the Queen gave her Christmas message from Southwark Cathedral. This marked a departure from custom; it’s the first time that the royal Christmas message has not been broadcast from a palace.
She also during the week before Christmas gave a message to British military personnel involved in action in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan – to the soldiers there and of course, their families back home, many of them in daily anxiety about their safety.
This made me think about St. Stephen in a strange kind of way.
He was prepared to undergo anything, even to risk his life, for a cause to which he was totally committed. Today we recall that as St. Luke records in Acts, he did, like Jesus, submit to a cruel death for the sake of that unshakeable belief.
I think that with our soldiers in far distant parts of the world, there must be that same commitment; hard enough if one absolutely believes in the political and strategic policy underlying action. How difficult it must be for those – as I suspect there must be – who are simply unsure about the justification of current Anglo-American foreign policy, or even believe it to be misguided.
We who are the inheritors of the unshakeable faith that inspired Stephen also have a belief, a belief that we are bound to be called on to speak out for from time to time. As witnesses for Christ, we will inevitably be called on to take risks for the ‘Propagation’ of the Gospel – to use the wording of the title of one of the great missionary organisations called USPG.
It is with this in mind that we need to continue our own Christmas celebrations by being in a sense brought down with something of a bump after the euphoria of our Christmas day Mass, and the Church, by placing St. Stephen today rightly makes us face that reality.
At the heart of it is the central question – What is it in our Christian understanding of the meaning of life that is so strong, so clear, so unshakeable that we would, if necessary follow St. Stephen through the gateway of a martyr’s death?
And what risks are we, individually, and as a community, prepared to take in order to go on being witnesses to that truth in the year ahead?