Sermon preached Friends memorial Church, 12-30-2012
Reading: Matthew 2:1-18
When I last spoke to you, I spoke of the darkness of advent. I spoke of the fact that though Christmas brings light, it did not eliminate cold and dark. This telling of the Christmas story really shows how dark the world remained. While the Magi see the Christ Child, the others in this story see random violence and the wrath of an unjust king Herod.
You might know that we are still in the Christmas season — it remains Christmas until January 6, the day known as Epiphany. The last major observation for the Church was the day of “Holy Innocents” — for the Eastern Orthodox, it is yesterday — for western Christians, the day before. Holy Innocents is a feast day where liturgical Christians remember those babies who were killed when Herod could not reach Jesus.
Our Eastern Orthodox brethren call these children the first martyrs, the first to die in the name of Jesus — but, its a name and a death that none of them chose. Even the great Eastern preacher Chrysostom noted that it was nothing except the cruel wrath of Herod, who having lost the chance to kill the child he likely saw as a threat, killed without mercy. For Chrysostom, there was no reason for this death, except Herod’s cruelty.
Most of us don’t really know much about Bethlehem at the time. Scholars tell us that the area had a population of about 1000. There would have been around 20 male children under two years old. One thing that is remarkable about this injustice is that outside Matthew, history has forgotten this event. Many of Herod’s cruelties are well documented, but no one cared to remember a small town populated by people who were not important. The whim of a single man brings the deaths of twenty innocents.
The fact that this injustice happens angers us. Even the earliest of preachers asked what this says of the nature of God. Theologians continue to write books defending that even with all the evil in this world God can still be good. We as Christians face these questions several times in our life — perhaps less often than we should. Every Christmas, for example — we memorialize roughly 20 babies killed because of a great injustice. For centuries preachers have observed that this injustice continues. Surely there is some injustice that we remember now… But that injustice is very minor compared to what has not been brought to our attention, so far this year, about seven and a half million children died — and almost all of them died for reasons that cannot be called ‘just’.
Some died at the hands of a madman who sought to kill. Others died as ‘collateral damage’ from war, or were the victims of terrorism. Most died simply because society did not value their lives enough to save them — food, clean water, antibiotics would have been enough to save their lives. The innocents died under Herod’s hand, because he feared losing his way of life — the innocents die with our heads turned away because we value our lifestyle more than their lives.
The hard thing is that God sees all the injustice in this world, even when we are blind. Christ did come as a light to this dark world, but often what we see when the light shines makes us want to close our eyes again. Sometimes the first thing that light does is allow us to see what is horrible. Christ showed us the value of a human life — even those who we would forget are the Image of God, and we see through that how evil humanity has become. We have to deal with this, the world is full of evil, and Christianity has decided to shine a light on this problem… What has God to do with this?
Jesus eventually suffered the same injustice that was there when He arrived. God did not choose to enforce justice and overthrow the unjust systems, instead Jesus chose to identify with the poor and the oppressed. Jesus did not avenge injustice — instead Jesus showed we have a sympathetic God who suffers with the oppressed. You see, before Jesus came, it was common to assume that God sided with the wealthy — after Jesus lived with the oppressed, and died under the empire we see God differently. We see from Jesus’ teachings that we are judged not by the standards of the world, but how we behave to those who have no ability to repay us. All these centuries have passed, and there are more and more Rachel’s — but, because Jesus came Rachel is remembered.
Because Jesus brought the value of the “least of these” into the light — and because Jesus showed us what Justice looks like in an unjust world — we can remember Rachel weeping for her children, mourn with her and repent We can carefully consider the way we live and walk in the world and knowing about Rachel’s tears try to live in a way that prevents someone else from weeping for her child that is no more.