The readings on which
this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r008.htm
s008g13 First Sunday after Christmass 29/12/2013
'take the child .. and flee’ Matthew 2.13
Recently one of our friends, commenting on parents and babies
said that babies come despite the holiday season, despite the
rest of the world celebrating Christmass.
(The neo-natal unit in the hospital where I work
continues to be open while the rest is closed for the break.)
And this made me think that babies transcend holidays
and religion. Suddenly all these religious activities
take second place as the new-born is fed, kept clean and dry,
calmed, loved. It is only in Luke that we hear that the
normal religious rituals were performed - circumcision and
purification. In Matthew, these niceties are forgotten
as his parents flee to keep the child safe. Even
in ‘ordinary’ families, everything takes second place to
the welfare of the new-born.
One of the things that ‘christians’ often claim is
that they have been 'born again’ taking the words of Jesus in
John (1) and the most obvious thing that new-born babies are
not is that they are not religious. They are too busy
needing to be fed, kept clean, kept calm, being loved.
Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night and to whom these words
were directed was the archetypical orthodox person - learned
in religion. Jesus describes him
as ‘the teacher of Israel’. (2) And it
is from this, his religious learning, that he has to
extricate himself. Our religion is not one of
knowledge of doctrines beyond ordinary people, but the reality
that God loves ordinary people without these divisions.
God loves the baby insistent on being fed, despite soiling his
or her nappy, needing constant calming, steadfast love.
And parents suddenly become the feeders, the cleaners, the
consolers, the lovers. They do these Godly things
naturally, even at the expense of their own comfort.
We have become grandparents in the last two years and it has
been wonderful to experience the birth and first years of two
precious lives, when they learn so much. We are
also grateful that they have parents who care, parents who are
up to the rigours of looking after them. We are
too old! We need our sleep these days!
As I have been thinking about spirituality and well-being I
realise that I have completely overlooked the spirituality of
being a parent caring for the new-born. None of it
feels terribly spiritual: breastfeeding, getting
up throughout the night, changing nappies, trying to
understand what an upset child wants, wondering if one is
doing it right, feeling inadequate, unsure what to do,
wondering when it will become a bit easier .. Yes I
remember still :-) Yet it is deeply ingrained in us to
do this, to be co-creators and co-carers with the divine.
And it strikes me how this has been un-acknowledged by the
church. I guess some people still bring their children
for baptism because the traditional church has sort of said
that they need this to get to heaven - and found the church
has taken the opportunity to turn them away because they are
not regular parishioners. What is more important,
caring for a baby or coming to church? To be
co-creators and co-carers with the divine 24 hours a day, 7
days a week with an insistent baby, or coming to church for an
hour a week? Which is the more godly - to put on a
chasuble or to change a nappy?
The orthodox motivation is of course, to make the child and
his or her parents religious, to enlist the child in the
sacred warfare against the forces of secular society, to
perpetuate the division between ‘christian' and others.
Why wouldn’t any sane parent not take their child and
flee? And rightly so! We look askance at the
child-soldiers recruited by the ‘Lord’s Resistance
Army’ in Uganda and South Sudan without realising that some in
our own churches operate remarkably similarly. (3) We
might not put AK-47’s in their hands, but the weapons of
ex-communication, condemnation and alienation are just as
lethal. As Jesus said: 'Do not fear those who kill
the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can
destroy both soul and body in hell.' (4) It
would do some people in the church well to recognise the
spiritual manipulation they exert when refusing baptism.
And God does not need to use nor does God condone
Parents and modern secular humanists have realised that
perpetuating religious divisions in society is the last thing
any ‘god’ worth worshipping would want to do! And
by crikey, I want to praise the Lord for this!
It is undoubtedly true that by far the majority in the world
do want a world where 'life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness' is extended to all people (5) and recognise some
churches calling themselves ‘christian’
and ‘Anglican’ actually are repressive, controlling,
and deadening. If people see the church being a force
for affirmation and inclusion then we too will find, as the
servant of Elisha found the truth: 'Do not be afraid,
for there are more with us than there are with them’. (6)
(1) John 3.3
(2) John 3.10
(4) Matthew 10.28
(6) 2 Kings 6.16