Today’s gospel reading seems to spoil the mood of the Christmas season. For the past weeks, we have heard heartwarming music and read pleasant messages of Christmas cheer. We have had family reunions – celebrating our being God’s family. In contrast to that, the Lord here draws a terrifying picture; “Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.” Hearing these words makes us ask: “Are we still at Christmas time?” I like the point of Joseph Krempa: “Isn’t all this really ‘the rest of the story’?”
Jesus came, after all, as a sign of contradiction. Krempa make this striking commentary, “The Gospel’s proclamation of forgiveness and eternal life requires a separation from our self-centered past.” “All the wonderful things about which we sang at Christmas begin to take place when we take a serious turn to the Lord.”
This clearly implies a break from a pattern of past behaviors. It can quite possibly mean a distance from those friends and even family members who would trivialize and even seek to reverse our conversion. Our decision to commit ourselves to Christ can be costly. Our action of following Jesus can be a lonely, even a heroic act. But with it comes eternal life. Krempa boldly states, “If we honestly want to break with our past, the Lord will help us.” “He will give us, as he gave Stephen, supernatural strength.” Stephen, after all, was just a human being like us. However, with his baptism, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, as were we.
Let me quote again Joseph Krempa: “Here we can see the real and personal significance of the Incarnation. God embraced our weak human nature so we might know the power of his divine Spirit.” “Our liturgy calls the surrender of our will and the reception of God’s grace a ‘holy exchange’ of gifts.”
Stephen’s heroism was not unique to him. It continues to be repeated by thousands of martyrs and millions of Christians every day. That same Spirit can fill us if we give our lives fully to the Lord Jesus. Then, the promise of Christmas peace will come true in our lives.