s091g97 Holy Innocents 29/12/97
If I was preaching this morning I would probably say something along these lines ...
"When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men." (Matthew 2:16).
Herod attempted to have the baby Jesus killed, because he presumed that Jesus, in later life, was likely to be a threat to his own position of power, or to the position of power for his own son - the person whom he chose to succeed him to the throne. This is not a particularly unusual happening, though with the modern means of communication available to us, news of such inhumanity can be quickly passed around and international sanctions can be quickly brought to bear. The Bible speaks to us of life as we know and experience it.
In the early chapters of Genesis, we see sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel, and between Joseph and his brothers.
In the gospel accounts we see James and John want positions of power and authority over the other disciples.
In the history of the early Church we find the apostles afraid of Paul, and unwilling to admit him into their group - perhaps because of his past opposition - or perhaps because he challenged their own positions of power in the inner band.
Into the midst of all this we find God persevering with them and with us.
It is interesting to me how much of all this is concerned with relationships between people - and as a consequence how little it is about our relationship with God.
How true are the words of John: "Whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go." (1 John 2:11). We cannot use this verse however to imply we can hate the non-believer. In the end, no one believes in precisely the same terms as I do. My job is to love, not to convert others to my way of thinking so I can no longer hate them.
St John says later: "All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them." (1 John 3:15).
The world which we are bidden not to love is the world of rivalries and jealousies, of fear, intimidation and murder. But it is not "out there" - it is "in here" when we have our own power struggles.
It is easy to love the Ethiopians, it is far more difficult to love the political rival, the seemingly more talented sibling, the more successful neighbouring member of the clergy, the person in the congregation who has a ministry which complements my own. It is more difficult to continue to love the spouse with whom one lives - does not familiarity breed contempt?
Into the midst of all this we find God persevering with us.
I confess I have great difficulty proclaiming: "O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Your glory above the heavens is sung by the mouths of babes and infants" on Holy Innocents day (Psalms 8:1-2). I can find no cause for praise what so ever in the slaughter of children - as if that excuses the political machine that brings that suffering about. It is altogether to pious for me, even though I am well aware of the benefits of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour. It still is happening.
But it is not just political machinery which causes suffering.
The history of the church has been littered with examples of the Church - taking the position of power and the moral high ground, and saying to society: "We know best ..." The issue of the indigenous children taken from their parents in times past in our own country of Australia is a classic example of this. In some ways the Church and well minded people could only see a future for the aboriginal race as they were assimilated into what they considered "normal" society. But that took no account of the ordinary family ties that these people had. This example should serve as a constant reminder that when we say: "We, the Church, know best ..." that has not always been the case in the past. It will not always be in the future, unless we are considering others as adults, able to make their own decisions and respecting them when they make decisions other than the ones we would have them make.
I refuse to be comforted, with the author of the Collect for today, for I know that the world is still full of jealousies and rivalries, that the Church is still wont to take the moral high ground rather than accept people for who they are, and that jealousies and rivalries continue to exist in my own life. I and we are bidden to do something about them. I find it no easier than anyone else.
"God of the dispossessed, defender of the helpless, you grieve with all the women who weep because their children are no more: may we also refuse to be comforted until the violence of the strong has been confounded, and the broken victims set free; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
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