The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
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 spiritual manipulation.  

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