(www.deaconden.org) For Deacons, the Season of Christmas, and indeed, Christmas Day, has special significance since Deacons are “ordered” to bring joy and unity to the People of God. What better time than Christmastide to emphasize the joy and unity that Our Lord can bring to the hearts of the faithful! In this day and age, bringing joy and unity to the Church is a vital part of our ministry!
The basis for this statement can be found prominently in Chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles where St. Deacon Philip brought “great joy” to the town of Samaria (Acts 8:8). He did so by proclaiming “the Messiah to them” (Acts 8:5) and “with one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip” (Acts 8:6). St. Deacon Philip proclaimed the Messiah knowing that Saul was going from house to house looking for Christians and “trying to destroy the Church” (Acts 8:3). Yet, St. Philip continued to preach and fill hearts with the joy of Christ.
A second reason evangelizing through our joy is important to Deacons during this time is based on the strategic placement of the Feast of St. Stephen. I believe the Church was very intentional by having the Feast of St. Deacon Stephen fall at the beginning of the Octave of Christmas. Why does St. Deacon Stephen’s martyrdom bring about joy to the People of God? After accusing the Sanhedrin of being a “stiff-necked” people, he predicted his own death by asking them the question, “which of the prophets (read Deacons) did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one…” (Acts 7:52) Yet, even in his martyrdom before the Jewish soldier, Saul, Deacon Stephen called out for forgiveness of sins for his persecutors as the Proto-martyr Deacon was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “saw the Glory of God” (Acts 7:55). Whoa! That we, as Deacons, would be so forgiving!
Even outside of the fact that he “fell asleep” witnessing the Glory of God, another reason for great joy at the martyrdom of Deacon Steven is that the event of his stoning would cause Saul to take up the mantle of St. Deacon Stephen. The proof is in the fact that St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was the one that united the Hebrews and the Hellenists as was chartered to the first Deacons after the laying on of hands by the Apostles. (Acts 6:1) St. Paul completed the good work the first Deacons had begun. How beautiful is the wisdom and work of God!
Finally, Deacons should be the cause of great joy because of the birth of Our Savior. It was the angels, the messengers of God that announced the Good News to the shepherds as they watched over their sheep. And they made their announcement in chorus, so great was the occasion of joy! How fitting that Deacons announce the Christmas Proclamation and the Gospel in the presence of the Pastor and his congregation!
It is of particular interest that in the Eastern Churches, the Deacon is the messenger and takes on the work of the angels to the people present in the Christmas celebration. Indeed, many Orthodox parishioners are greeted at the entrances to the churches by an Archangel and a Deacon Saint engraved in the Holy Doors of the parishes.
Yet, if we reflect on what Our Lord gave by coming to us as a helpless infant and then dying on the Cross for our salvation, we ought to quiver with the Holy Spirit at the intensity of the Love God has shown us by His Sacrifice. Even in our deepest despair, it is a cause of great hope and joy.
So, I pray that each of you have a very joy-filled Christmas and that you may be attentive to those that are suffering or lack understanding of the season. May peace reign in your hearts because of the grace God has given to each of you through your ordination and ministry. Now…go announced the Gospel of the Lord with great joy!