“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:54).
The message of Christmas is brought home to us in today’s story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The Incarnation transforms us into other Christs. Our union with the humanity of Jesus is also our union with him in his divinity. By baptism, we become adopted children of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and members of the body of Christ.
The trial of Stephen parallels Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Stephen says he beholds the heavens opening to reveal Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Jesus said he saw the heavens open and the Son of Man coming on the clouds in glory. As he dies by stoning, Stephen says the same thing Jesus says from the cross: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” Stephen is one with Christ.
To add a third layer to this parallel, as Stephen dies, standing nearby is a young man named Saul, who witnesses his execution. Not long after, Saul will see the same vision of Jesus standing at the throne of God on the road to Damascus. He is transformed by this encounter and becomes Paul, whose entire life will be devoted to preaching the mystery of the “Christ in us,’ the Paschal mystery of our transformation into Christ.
Christmas is not over on December 26, but only beginning. God is with us, among us, sharing our humanity so that we might share his divinity. Jesus is the model for our gradual transformation by embracing the pattern of dying to ourselves in order to live more and more completely in Christ. For some, the cost of this transformation may well be martyrdom. For most of us, daily life will provide repeated opportunities to live the life of Christ. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to be ready to face opposition and resistance for practicing their faith. This is the cost of being faithful.
May the Word become flesh in us. This is the meaning of our lives and the fulfillment of Christmas.