Sunday, December 27, 2020

Prep for Childermas Coming Monday, December 28, 2020 | Light Shines More Brightly Against Brutal Darkness

Jesus entered a world plagued not only by the darkness of individual pain and sin, but also by the darkness of systemic oppression. Jesus’ people, the Hebrews, were a subjugated people living as exiles in their own land; among other things, they were silenced, targets of brutality, and exploitatively taxed. For many, the darkness of long-standing oppression had extinguished any hope for liberation. It was into this "worst world" that the Light-in-which-We-See-Light was born, liberating the people from the terror of darkness. So it is in the midst of our worst world that we, too, can most clearly see the Light, for light shines more brightly against a backdrop of true darkness. + Dr. Christena Cleveland

The gospel of Jesus the Messiah was born in a land and at a time of trouble, tension, violence and fear. Banish all thoughts of peaceful Christmas scenes. Before the Prince of Peace had learned to walk and talk, he was a homeless refugee with a price on his head. + N.T. Wright

By Aurelius Clemens Prudentius from Cathemerinon ("The Hymns of Prudentius")
348-405 A.D.

All hail! ye infant Martyr flowers,
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
As rosebuds snapt in tempest strife,
When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

You, tender flock of lambs, we sing,
First victims slain for Christ your King:
Beneath the Altar’s Heav’nly ray
With Martyr-palms and crowns ye play!

For their redemption glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee!
With Father, and with Holy Ghost,
For ever, from the Martyr-host!


Holy Innocents Icon - Lament of Rachel

"Remembering the Holy Innocents and Refugees," including excerpts from Bishop N.T. Wright, Pope Francis, and Dr. Christena Cleveland for the Feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs during Christmastide, especially Childermas
Scriptures: Matthew 2:12-23

At times, some people can make waves about saying “Merry Christmas” again and “doing it right.” But are we ready to see that Herod is a necessary part of Christmas, too, and that he often is in us, the ones playing the power games?

Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus has a ruler of a nation making big pronouncements. And he’s a scheming, frightened, insecure tyrant who lashes out at others. Matthew’s Gospel reveals again that God has entered our world as it actually exists. He isn’t wrapping it in bows or playing pretty music. God’s love is too powerful and too true to enter a world that doesn’t exist. But have we turned life and faith and spirituality around Christmas time into something that ignores reality? Are we trying to cover up the Herod in us and in the world around us?

What causes you to become a little Herod? What fuels your planning and protection without God? What makes you insecure? Who do you lash out at and why? How does Jesus disrupt your life?

At the heart of the Christmas story in Matthew's gospel is a baby who poses such a threat to the most powerful man around that he kills a whole village of other babies in order to try to get rid of him. At the heart of the Christmas story in Luke, too, is a baby who, if only the Roman emperor knew it, will be Lord of the whole world. Within a generation His followers will be persecuted by the empire as a danger to good order. Whatever else you say about Jesus, from His birth onwards, people certainly found him a threat. He upset their power-games, and suffered the usual fate of people who do that.

In fact, the shadow of the cross falls over the story from this moment on. Jesus is born with a price on His head. Plots are hatched; angels have to warn Joseph; they only just escape from Bethlehem in time. Herod the Great, who thought nothing of killing members of his own family, including three of his own sons and his wife, when he suspected them of scheming against him, and who gave orders when dying that the leading citizens of Jericho should be slaughtered so that people would be weeping at his funeral – this Herod would not bat an eyelid at the thought of killing lots of little babies in case one of them should be regarded as a royal pretender. As his power had increased, so had his paranoia – a not unfamiliar progression, as dictators around the world have shown from that day to this.

The gospel of Jesus the Messiah was born, then, in a land and at a time of trouble, tension, violence and fear. Banish all thoughts of peaceful Christmas scenes. Before the Prince of Peace had learned to walk and talk, He was a homeless refugee with a price on his head. At the same time, in this passage and several others Matthew insists that we see in Jesus, even when things are at their darkest, the fulfillment of scripture. This is how Israel's redeemer was to appear; this is how God would set about liberating His people, and bringing justice to the whole world. No point in arriving in comfort, when the world is in misery; no point having an easy life, when the world suffers violence and injustice! If He is to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, He must be with us where the pain is.

And we can be with Him in the pain. If this is Jesus' story, and we are saved by being redeemed and adopted into His family, where does He lead us to step into the pain of the world? How will we join Him in fulfilling the Scriptures in His entry into the world by how we welcome others' entry into our world?

According to Jesus Himself in Matthew 18:5 ("Whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me"), we can and should see the defenseless baby Jesus in the children who suffer the most from war, migration, and natural calamities caused by mankind today. 

Christmastide invites us to focus on the sign of the child and to recognize Him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, 'there is no place in the inn.' 

So we can see Jesus in the children in Myanmar and Bangladesh within whom are relatives of our Worcester Refugee Assistance Project community and families. We can see Jesus in the innocent children suffering from wars who are too often largely forgotten, with serious humanitarian implications for its people who suffer from hunger and the spread of diseases. We can see Him in the conflicts affecting children in South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Venezuela, and more.

Will we welcome them like we say we welcome Him through our words and actions, through our policies and practices? Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one’s head. May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem. This season of Christmastide is an invitation to plunge into the deep, dark waters of our worst world, knowing that when we re-surface for air we will encounter the hopeful, hovering Spirit of God. Indeed, Jesus' Light of true hope is found in the midst of darkness.

"Away from the Manger: The Refugee King" Reprise

Liz Vice, Wen Reagan, Bruce Benedict, Greg Scheer, Lester Ruth, 2018 A.D.

Away from the manger, they ran for their lives;
The crying boy Jesus, a son they must hide.
A dream came to Joseph, they fled in the night
And they ran and they ran and they ran. (Ooh x 2)

No stars in the sky but the Spirit of God
Led down into Egypt from Herod to hide.
No place for His parents, no country or tribe,
And they ran and they ran and they ran. (Ooh x 2)

Stay near me Lord Jesus when danger is nigh
And keep us from Herods and all of their lies.
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, the Refugee King,
And we sing and we sing and we sing ...  (x2)

Alleluja! x 5

Next post: Childermas 2020 | Wondering As We Wander

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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