It’s Boxing Day, traditionally a time of hangovers, indigestion and selection box chocolates for breakfast. The Christmas Day celebrations are over and now we’re in the limbo of pre-New Year. I can’t even remember what day it is.
That’s not entirely true. I remember it’s the Feast of St. Stephen, largely because of Good King Wenceslas and all that. Stephen is best known as the first Christian martyr, but he was also one of the first deacons, a post established by the early church to address inequalities in distributing food to the poor (basically Greek widows weren’t being adequately looked after, so seven deacons were put in charge of sorting this out).
Stephen’s martyrdom is important, but it’s also worth remembering his day job. Because two thousand years have passed and we still face issues of poverty and inequality and prejudice, still have people in our neighbourhoods and offices and churches who don’t have enough to eat, don’t know how to pay their rent, are one missed pay cheque away from desperation. And I’m blessed to not be in that situation, but that’s a position of privilege. It took the apostles a while to appoint Stephen and the others because at first they didn’t realise what was going on. There’s a lesson in that.
It’s also impossible to separate Stephen, the man who went down swinging in the faith, from Stephen the deacon called to care for the poor. Both sides of his story are rooted in the out-working of his beliefs. We sometimes get caught up in a false binary between good theology and right practice, but Stephen straddles both. It’s a good place to be, even when people start throwing stones.