Well, we’ve done the cosy family party, we’ve eaten and drunk well and we’ve sung the old familiar carols– and it’s now a bit of an anticlimax.
But it’s no co-incidence that the day after we celebrate the Incarnation we celebrate the first martyr, St Stephen. It reminds us of the cost of our discipleship. Faith is a free gift from God but we must WANT to follow him and follow Him to the end. For some of us discipleship is costly. There are countries in the world where admitting to being a Christian means inferior jobs, poorer housing, and lower education for one’s children; there are countries where Christians have to worship in secret because they go in fear of our lives. Even in the UK, people can be teased for asking fellow workers to stop swearing. Being a Christian in the 21st Century is not easy – it is challenging.
Last night on Channel 4, there was a documentary entitled ‘The Nativity Decoded’. It should have been called ‘Christianity debunked’. It involved a collection of archaeologists and anthropologists alongside theologians. It attempted to destroy every aspect of the nativity according to St Matthew and St Luke, and even went as far as suggesting that no only was Jesus’ father a human, He was conceived as a result of rape. They backed up their assertions by saying the gospels were written so long after the event and by people so unconnected with them as to be meaningless! [No mention that Mark’s gospel was based on St Peter’s memoirs!. The Archbishop of Birmingham [RC and Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London did their best to bring in a note of reassurance.
If Jesus was totally human, and not divine as we believe, would St Stephen have been so certain he could see Jesus as he was being stoned? Surely, anyone whose life is being threatened would not stand firm like that. And what of all the martyrs down the ages in the past 200 years. Did they all die for nothing? Jesus HAS to be both divine and human in order to enter our world at every level. The Incarnation in a mystery but without it Christianity is nothing more than a cult. We know it isn’t. We know Emmanuel is GOD WITH US, part of us suffering with us & for us. When the going gets tough, Christians get going. We acknowledge our debt to Stephen and all the other martyrs and pray for a faith in the Incarnate God as strong as theirs.