Yesterday, with exultation,
Join’d the world in celebration
Of her promised Saviour’s birth;
Yesterday the Angel-nation
Pour’d the strains of jubilation
O’er the Monarch born on earth;
But today o’er death victorious,
By his faith and actions glorious,
by his miracles renown’d,
See the Deacon triumph gaining,
‘Midst the faithless faith sustaining,
First of holy Martyrs found.
Text: Heri mundus exultavit, Adam of S. Victor (d. 1192)
Translation: Rev. John Mason Neale (1862)
Everything is different. Everything is new. God is now man. Man might become God. Kings kneel in a stable, and a deacon is crowned with deadly stones. A virgin bears a Son, and death becomes gain. All is backwards and beautiful; upside down and amazing. At last the promise is fulfilled. The ancient song erupts in new harmony as angels sing over a babe in a trough and above the mangled relics of a martyr named Stephen.
The bloody stones that lie around the corpse of St. Stephen proclaim a peace that the world has never known before, a peace won for us by the God-man asleep in the manger. These stones are shamed by the Apostle’s cry: “O death, where is your victory! O death, where is your sting!” What is there now to fear? What anxiety can trouble us now that God has become man and conquered sin and death by his Cross and Resurrection?
Be at peace, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Peace is his gift to you. His peace He gives you; not peace as the world gives, but as only He can give. If God is with you, who can be against you? What will separate you from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? In all these things you conquer overwhelmingly through him who loves you. Come and follow Him, and He will give you rest.
There is nothing to fear now. And that changes everything.
Image: Swiss Romanesque Painter, Stoning of St Stephen