The Christmas Season
Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time. December 2 is the start of Advent this year. In many congregations, candles of the Advent wreath are lit each Sunday in anticipation of the birth of Jesus on the night of Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, families usually attend church together and share meals of traditional foods while exchanging gifts.
The story of Jesus’ birth is one of the most familiar in the world; when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, they sought shelter at the inn but they were turned away and Jesus was born in a nearby manger. An angel appeared to three wise men walking in the desert. The men traveled to Bethlehem to honor the newborn after being told that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and would one day be king.
According to tradition, the Christmas season continues for twelve days, starting with St. Stephen’s Day on December 26th and concluding with the Epiphany, or “Three Kings Day” on January 7.
Christianity’s Dangerous Past
Saint Stephen is believed to be the first of the Christian martyrs, killed for preaching about the life and death of Jesus.
When Stephen was executed in the streets of Jerusalem in 34 AD, a man named Saul was in a nearby crowd. Saul was a wealthy, upper-class Jewish man known for his severe treatment of Christians. After witnessing Stephen’s death, Saul was walking on the road to Damascus where he claims Jesus appeared to him and told him to stop persecuting Christians.
Soon after, Saul converted to Christianity. He took the name Paul and became one of the most important first-century missionaries.
As Paul and the Twelve Apostles traveled through present-day regions of Europe, Greece, and Rome, each of them were said to have died violent deaths similar to St. Stephen’s. Only the Apostle John survived into old age, contributing a gospel and three epistles to the New Testament. Within 350 years, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire.