The first Sunday after Christmas. Holy Innocents Sunday.
I left my keys in a cab last night. So I call Marc to meet me. I find the 86th street door unlocked. So I go in. Take a quick check of possible doors. No easy entry on main door. The balcony seems closed tight as well. Marc has now shown up. Good clothes and all I enter the bowels of the church, Marc following close behind. I’m looking for the door that opens up through my office. But find myself completely confused. And there is still that inexplicable doll sitting on a tiny chair down there. Probably some things its better if we don’t have an explanation for them.
So that’s it. We make our way out. Only one shot left. Marc has to pop the lock. Which with a hammer and screwdriver he does with only minimal damage.
Deacon James has arrived. And a woman who looks familiar. It’s Kia. Her mother Nora was a long time member. Now I remember. Kia is taking cell phone photos for her own memories.
Soon the others begin to arrive in by one, including my new Pittsburgh friend Wayne.
We start with Isaiah 63. And this is what we focus on:
and he became their savior 9 in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them
All their distress…all our distress…he is with us…
No messenger or angel, nothing supernatural…his presence..his right there, right now, human presence…
And that is what the incarnation is all about…God present in human flesh…in human form …in the midst of humanity…
We continue with Hebrews 2: 10-18.
10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying, I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. 13And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Here am I and the children whom God has given me.
14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
Lots of thick theology there, but we note that:
* He is perfected through sufferings. (And we know from our own experience that sufferings do not always perfect us. What we also know is that God is present in the flesh in our sufferings.)
* Jesus’ victory was in going to the cross, not the resurrection. That was the cherry on top. The real victory was going to the cross, being willing to go all the way. Nothing more could be done to him. As we discerned in Bible Study, that is what defeated death. Broke its tyranny of fear. We have nothing to be afraid of. My friend Father Earl, when he was at St.Mary’s in the Bowery, called his church the we are not afraid church.
* He became like us in every respect. Our most real relationship wit him is brother and sister. Relationship.
*He was tested in ever way that we are. If the resurrection is to mean everything, he must mean at his deepest being every word of my God my God, why hast thou forsaken me. When we are tested, we know God knows what it is like.
Finally we finish with Matthew 2 13-25:
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, Out of Egypt I have called my son.
16When 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. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead. 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, He will be called a Nazorean.
This is what we note:
* Joseph in a dream again. Matthew trying to have Jesus relive the story of the people of Israel. As old testament Joseph was communicated to in dreams, so too is this Joseph.
* As the people of Israel had to sojourn in Egypt, so to does Jesus have to spend time in Egypt.
* As Moses was threatened, so Jesus is threatened.
*There is a whole extracanonical narrative of the Holy Family’s time in Egypt, found in places like the Thomas infancy gospel, the Arabic infancy gospel and the Syriac gospel. Plus Coptic traditions. I’ve seen the site where the Holy family lived, a few blocks up the street in Cairo from where Moses was pulled from the bulrushes. And the story of the Holy Family being set upon by thieves and Jesus turning them away. The one thief will reappear at the crucifixion as the good thief.
But our real focus is the Holy Innocents. Wayne focuses on Rachel’s weeping for her children, the pain of my mother’s loss. And I know what Arcadia must be feeling. And we reflect on the father last week who threw his three year old son of the roof then jumped himself. What the mother must feel.
And we note that Jesus and his family were undocumented asylum seekers. Immigrants. Today’s front page Times had a story about a civil official in Mexico giving countless people documents that would grant them legal asylum status in the US. And I think of the border territory in Arizona. The childrens’ shoes and dolls found in the desert. And my friends in Germany working with those who flee across the Mediterranean, and all those who perish.
Jose Saramago in his the Gospel According to Jesus Christ, had Jesus know of the slaughter of the innocents and that this haunted him and shaped his life and destiny.
And we talk of child soldiers. How the creator of the Kalashnikov rifle was proud of his invention but haunted at images of children carrying his weapon.
And in the end, that is what this day is important. Christmas never happens like a Hallmark card or a Radio City Music Hall live tableau with swelling orchestra flourishes and organs. It happens in the midst of. In the midst of Rachel’s weeping which has political content but is always personal. It is in the midst where God becomes flesh and blood. And that is what we celebrate. What gives us hope.
Wayne shares another musical reflection for us. We make out circle. Bless each other.
The session reviews the recent events that are pushing us forward into a New Year.
Christmas happens in the midst of….
Marc is fixing the lock and door.