Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Year's Day 2017: the Holy Innocents


If getting people out on Christmas morning is tough, New year’s day is even worse…and for me there was a trifecta of issues to deal with. 

We opened with Jeremy’s gospel  version of “Joy to the world..”.  To bring in the Kings, we sang the traditional “We three Kings of Orient Are”.  Later we  will do the Puerto Rican carol, “De Tierra Lejana” in a salsa style.  And bring the wisemen back with “Early on One Christmas Morn.”  And finally we finish our service with “Jesus the Light of the World”  

There was a lot to think about..
Happy New Year!
There are so many ways I can go here…
  1. It’s the 8th Day of Christmas
  2. Because of the way the calendar falls, this year we have no Three Kings Sunday, no Epiphany …if we’re going to do wise men, Magi, they have to be today
  3. The assigned scripture takes us to a place we don’t get to every year, namely Holy Innocents Sunday, the dark Christmas story we don’t read but every three years, the massacre of the children.
  4. And of course, it’s New Years Day….

From Matthew 2 we read:
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, 20“Get 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.”

My friend Pastor Heidi Neumark says the wise men committed civil disobedience…at any rate they lied to Herod….and they saved Jesus but…it led to the massacre of children. In reality, there is no historicity. No external verification. However, using historic population numbers etc, it would have been  maybe two dozen children at most…an occurrence so common, it would not have even been written down. Herod was even known to have  murdered to be three of his own children…(It was said that it was better to be his pig than his son…)

In church tradition, these children were the first martyrs and the first feast day of the new church year was set for December 28th. The story of the Holy Innocents touches a nerve.  And resonates down through history.

In 1534,a  mystery play left us the Coventry Carol, the only of the collected Child Ballads with a Biblical theme. 

Lullay, lullay
My little tiny child
By-by, lullay, lullaby

Lullay, lullay
My little tiny child
By-by, lullay, lullay

Oh, sisters two
How may we do
For to preserve this day?

This poor youngling
Of whom we do sing
By-by, lullay, lullay

Herod the King
In his raging
Charged he hath this day

His men of might
In his own sight
All children young to slay

Then woe is me
Poor child for thee
And ever mourn and say

For thy parting
Nor say nor sing
By-by, lullay, lullay

Lullay, lullay
My little tiny child
By-by, lullay, lullay

Lullay, lullay
My little tiny child
By-by, lullay, lullay
By-by, lullay, lullay
By-by, lullay, lullay

It was also a common theme with medieval painters, especially Rubens and Bruegel who panted the scene with contemporary  characters. (Like by the Nicaragua Solentiname artists in the 1980’s..) 
from Solentiname
In 1886, Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck wrote a piece describing the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands based on Breughel’s painting of 1567 (which predated actual repression by two years! ) 
Here is its disturbing conclusion:

When all the children were killed, the tired soldiers wiped their swords on the grass and supped under the pear-trees. Then the foot-soldiers mounted behind the others and they all rode out of Nazareth together, by the stone bridge, as they had come.

The setting sun lit the forest with a red light and painted the village a new colour. Weary with running and entreating, the priest had sat down in the snow in front of the church; and his servant-maid stood near him, looking around. They saw the street and the orchard filled with peasants in their holiday attire, moving about the market-place and along the houses. Outside the doors, families, with their dead children on their knees, whispered in amazement and horror of the fate wherewith they had been assailed. Others were still mourning the child where it had fallen, near a cask, under a barrow or at a puddle's edge, or were carrying it away in silence. Several were already washing the benches, chairs, tables and shirts all smirched with blood and picking up the cradles that had been flung into the street. But nearly all the mothers were kneeling on the grass under the trees, before the dead bodies, which they knew by their woollen frocks. Those who had no children were roaming about the market-place, stopping to gaze at the afflicted groups. The men who had done weeping took the dogs and started in pursuit of their strayed beasts, or mended their broken windows or gaping roofs, while the village grew hushed and still beneath the light of the moon as it rose slowly in the sky.

It is violence, murder, that serves no purpose. Those who could intervene, who the people our to are the church and local  political power . The priest impotent. And the feudal Lord indifferent. Which raises the question, where is God?  According to New York Times, 100000 of the 250000 trapped in the eastern half of Aleppo are children…
49 died in a  mortar attack in July, 
8 died n a bombing of a hospital
In November, every day more deaths….
There are 8 million  at risk (according to UNICEF) and perhaps 50,000 dead…abnd it goes on and  on

Russ’ choice for a bulletin cover is painfully appropriate..

This is the context in which we read Hebrews 2, which we read as an introduction to our Eucharist:

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.

Jesus is there…where are we? The world needs us…

But yes, it is a New Year
Who knows what we can expect?  We’re all glad to see 2016 go, BUT what will 2017 bring? Happy New Year? The most I’ve ever heard those words reflected on. You can’t say them without thinking the year…maybe that is the context in which we read Isaiah 63: 7-9

 I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, 
          the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, 
     because of all that the LORD has done for us, 
          and the great favor to the house of Israel 
     that he has shown them according to his mercy, 
          according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 
8   For he said, “Surely they are my people, 
          children who will not deal falsely”; 
     and he became their savior 
9        in all their distress. 
     It was no messenger or angel 
          but his presence that saved them; 
     in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; 
          he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

We are called on to resist with hope….and joy

In Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neel Hurston, she writes of the celebration when the first street lamp comes to a black town in Florida…

The town was full and swarming with people. They wanted to see that lamp
lit at dusk. Near the time, Joe assembled everybody in the
street before the store and made a speech.
“Folkses, de sun is goin’ down. De Sun-maker brings it
up in de mornin’, and de Sun-maker sends it tuh bed at
night. Us poor weak humans can’t do nothin’ tuh hurry it up
nor to slow it down. All we can do, if we want any light
after de settin’ or befo’ de risin’, is tuh make some light ourselves.
So dat’s how come lamps was made. Dis evenin’
we’se all assembled heah tuh light uh lamp. Dis occasion is 
something for us all tuh remember tuh our dyin’ day. De
first street lamp in uh colored town. Lift yo’ eyes and gaze
on it. And when Ah touch de match tuh dat lamp-wick let
de light penetrate inside of yuh, and let it shine, let it shine,
let it shine. Brother Davis, lead us in a word uh prayer. Ask
uh blessin’ on dis town in uh most particular manner.”
While Davis chanted a traditional prayer-poem with his
own variations, Joe mounted the box that had been placed
for the purpose and opened the brazen door of the lamp. As
the word Amen was said, he touched the lighted match to
the wick, and Mrs. Bogle’s alto burst out in:
We’ll walk in de light, de beautiful light
Come where the dew drops of mercy shine bright
Shine all around us by day and by night
Jesus, the light of the world.
They, all of them, all of the people took it up and sung it
over and over until it was wrung dry, and no further innovations
of tone and tempo were conceivable. Then they hushed
and ate barbecue.

I wish we had barbecue…but we do have each other …and as we leave here having shared bread and cup, let us remember that it is not these elements but we the people who have been transformed in to the body of the Risen Christ in the World. Let us be his head and heart, hands, feet and words…

Happy New Year!

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