For today December 26: St. Stephen, Martyr. St. Stephen “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministy of the proclomations (Acts 6:2-5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to wait on tables but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they braught Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first marytr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).
For today December 27: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. St. John was a son of Zebedee and brother of James the Elder (whose festival day is July 25). John was among the first disciples to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22) and became known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” as he refers to himself in the Gospel that bears his name (e.g., John 21:20). Of the Twelve, John alone did not forsake Jesus in the hours of His suffering and death. With the faithful women, he stood at the cross, where our Lord made him the guardian of His mother. After Pentecost, john spent his ministry in Jerusalem and at Ephesus, where tradition says he was bishop. He wrote the fourth Gospel, the three Epistles that bear his name, and the Book of Revelation. Especially memorable in his Gospel are the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), the “Gospel in a nutshell” (John 3:16), Jesus’ saying about the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11), and Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning (John 20:11-18). According to tradition, John was banished to the island of Patmos (off the coast of Asia Minor) by the Roman emperor Domitian. John lived to a very old age, surviving all the apostles, and died at Ephesus around AD 100.
For today December 28: The Holy Innocents, Martyrs. Matthew’s Gospel tells of King Herod’s vicious plot against the infant Jesus after being “tricked” by the Wise Men. Threatened by the “born King of the Jews,” Herod murdered all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2:16-18). These “innocents,” commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth, remind us not only of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable but more significantly of the persecution of Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life. Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, wouls sentence the innocent Jesus to death.
For today December 29: David. David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 BC. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel through 1 Kings 2 and in 1 Chronicles 10-29. David was also gifted musically. He was skilled in playing the lyre and the author of no fewer than seventy-three psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath [1 Samuel 17]). David’s greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to God as Israel’s military and political leader, coupled with his willingness to acknowledge his sins and ask for God’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12; see also Psalm 51). It was under David’s leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city.