Christmas 1 Address by Revd George Mwaura – Sunday, 29 December 2019
A massacre of the innocent!
Gospel reading: Matthew 2: 13–23
Many people have this romantic and idealistic notion that Christmas must be perfect. Such people have the tendency to dwell on the sentimental aspects of Christmas as an escape from the harsh, cold realities of life. The truth is, Christmas has always been untidy, and the powers of evil were active at work when Christ was born, and they are still active today.
Yes, even during Christmas, there are countless, untold stories of children being trafficked, abused, tortured and even killed. Unfortunately, most of these stories don’t make the headlines. This morning, our gospel lesson brings us such a story to shake us from our post Christmas sleep induced by all the good food and wine. We awake from our slumber to hear too many parents wailing and lamenting for their children and they refuse to be consoled because they’ve lost their children: they’ve lost their children to the forces of globalisation, child labour and sweat shops; they’ve lost their children to street gangs, drug cartels and militias who force young children to kill their own people. They’ve lost their children to the sex industry and sometimes the trafficked children are transported to far-flung destinations and the parents never see them again. Such are the harsh, cold realities of our world today. In this sense, nothing much has changed in the last two thousand years: Far too often it seems that the dark forces have the upper hand!
In three sets of dreams, Mathew uses Jesus’ story to tell us how life in this world can be dangerous, cruel and subject to evil schemes cooked up by power-hungry people. First, God spoke to Joseph in a dream through an angel and said: Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to kill him (Mathew 2: 12–13) What a message especially after the highs of Christmas! In an instant, we are violently yanked from Luke’s romantic Christmas picture of a cute little baby in a manger and transported into a dangerous territory. Now, we are in the presence of a tyrant who is determined to shed innocent blood so that he can kill the Christ-Child. According to Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod was an extremely cruel and violent man who ordered the killing of three of his sons so that they didn’t succeed him. Even Caesar in Rome is reported to have said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, Chapter1: 2).Fortunately, Herod did not manage to kill Jesus. With his family, Joseph fled to Egypt and they lived there as refugees until Herod’s death when it was safe to return in fulfilment of the prophecy of Hosea which said: Out of Egypt I have called my son (Hosea 11:1). I wonder what life was like for the holy family in Egypt. After all, there was a history, of Israel being enslaved in Egypt. Would they be safe there as refugees or would they be giving up one oppressive ruler for another? Could Joseph really trust God’s messenger on this issue or were they destined to be slaves like their ancestors? Surely such thoughts must have crossed Joseph’s mind as he trekked the desert to Egypt.
I wish there were more messengers from God instructing vulnerable people in the world today as they trek across the jungles of Africa and the wilderness of Asia in an attempt to reach Europe using risky and rickety boats. I wish there were more refugees finding safe places to flee and live for a time somewhere near them. I truly wish the world was able to save more and more children.
As the second part of Joseph’s dreams unfolds, we are told that Herod went ballistic when he learnt that he had been tricked by the wise men. And so, he ordered the killing of all the children about Bethlehem who were two years old or under: this is what is referred to as the ‘massacre of the innocent’. According to Matthew, this was to fulfil the prophecy of Jeremiah which said: Rachel’s voice was heard weeping and wailing in Ramah, for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they were no more (Jeremiah 31: 15) paraphrased!
The truth is; there are far too many Rachel’s in our world today. There are far too many mothers of children who were innocent and have been abducted, abused, tortured or killed: the mothers of Sina Haidari, Madeline Machan, Holy and Jessica, Sidney Leigh or even the mother of Leah Croucher from here in Milton Keynes. Indeed, some of you here today may have been unfortunate enough to lose a child through one form of tragedy or another and so you can identify with Rachel’s pain. How might we, as followers of Jesus, have compassion on the Rachels of today? Can we share Christ’s love with them by walking with them in their wailing and lamenting? Perhaps we can be God’s messengers for such parents bringing them hope during desperate times.
In the third movement of the dreams, once again God’s messenger tells Joseph that Herod has died and now it’s safe to return to Israel, but he must not go Judea, where Herod’s son Archelaus now ruled, but must proceed to Nazareth in the district of Galilee and live there. This third revelation reminds us that the Herods of this world do not and will not prevail. Sooner or later they lose their power. And history can testify to that: Nebuchadnezzar, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Ceausescu, Mugabe, etc. Sooner or later they die. The only thing that stands the test of time is the truth of God’s word.
Today, as we remember Jesus the refugee-child and the dangers he faced on his flight into Egypt; we also pause and remember all the refugee children in this world who live in squalid camps and detention centers: the Rohingya children in Kutupalong, the Somali children in Ifo and Liboi, the Afghan children in Panan, the Palestinian and Syrian children in Zaatari and many, many more. Those who are right now being abused, exploited or lead a life without hope. We remember too, the parents of these children and their anguish and desperation for their inability to protect and provide for their children.
One day, these children and their parents shall be first in the kingdom of God. One day they shall be completely free from their sufferings and their grief. One day when the Christ-Child shall return in glory as the King of kings and Lord of lords, all the tyrants, all the Herods of this world shall be no more. One day King Jesus shall destroy all evil powers completely and rule eternally in perfect peace and love. Surely this is worth celebrating during this season of Christmas and into the New Year isn’t it?
Happy New Year!
Revd George Mwaura