“A voice was heard in Ramah sobbing and lamenting loudly: it was Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, for they were no more.” Matthew 2:18
Matthew 2:13-23 seems like such an offensive text to be reading so soon after Christmas. And yet, this gospel text, known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents” is indeed the prescribed lesson for the first Sunday of Christmas. Amid our celebrations, and in the midst of the gospel writer’s account of the birth of Christ, this horrendous story of the slaughter of innocents begs the question: WHY? It’s Christmas for heaven’s sake! My preaching professor, used to remind us of the first thing we should do when we are preparing a sermon on a particular text is to ask the obvious question. “So What?”
So What? Well for this child of the sixties, only one Christmas song comes to mind when I read of the slaughter of the innocents, it’s the one Christmas song that asks the question: So What? We’ve just celebrated Christmas? So what does this mean? Please listen. “So this is Christmas?”
John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980. Shot by a deranged fan. And so is it any wonder, the melancholy why in which he sang this song, haunts our Christmases? So, what possible difference can Christmas make? We haven’t even had a chance to finish our celebrations and the news is far from good. Thousands continue to die in Syria, and the Sudan, Palestine is a mess. The people of the Philippians continue to suffer in the aftermath of disaster. The war on Terror rages on as one side scores points on the other at the cost of human flesh and the word “drone” has taken on a horrific meaning. Hunger continues to claim the lives of the poor despite the fact that we have more than enough food to feed the world. Poverty continues to enslave millions the world over. In just a couple of weeks the most powerful nation on Earth will hand over the reins of power to a man whose temperament for office is terrifying.
And so this is Christmas, and what have we done?
For we are the ones to whom a child was born.
We are the ones to whom a saviour was given.
A saviour who is Christ the Lord.
A saviour sent to provide hope to the world.
And we are the ones in whom Christ lives.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, for God has done great things for us!
Christ lives and breathes in us.
So, we are the ones God has sent to save the world.
So, this is Christmas and what have you done?
Clearly we have work to do!
The work of Christmas has barely begun.
If the slaughter of innocents is to end, we had better get busy.
Rachel is weeping for her children.
And God knows why she weeps.
Rachel weeps because her children are no more.
And Rachel, their mother, refuses to be comforted.
Rachel’s children—our children, yours and mine—born for love and mercy, die from neglect and ugliness and Rachel weeps bitterly. There’s a little book of prayers called: “Children’s Letters to God”. The prayers in that book have the power to make you smile and cry all at once. The very first letter to God in that book reads: “Dear God, in Sunday School they told us what you do. Who does it, God, when you are on vacation?” We may smile, but sometimes it feels as if for all intents and purposes, God is on vacation. For surely God would not stand idly by and allow so many innocents to perish?
Once we broaden our images of God; the source of our being, the One who dwells in us, we can begin to see that the place where we have traditionally located the Divine One changes from up there to in and around here and we can begin to seek God not out there but within and around us. If God is on vacation, it is because we are on vacation. For the Divine one works in, with and through us to sooth the pain caused by violence and greed.
So, let me assure you sisters and brothers, our God is not on vacation. Despite appearances to the contrary, our God is not absent, but God is surely weeping. For in Christ God showed us the way. The Christmas story insists that our God is in-fleshed and dwells among us. This changes everything. It’s not enough to pray with words expecting some far off deity to change the world. The changing of this world will happen when we begin to live into our full humanity and the sacred nature of our very being shines forth with LOVE. In, with and through us is how the LOVE we call God changes the world.. For we are God’s people on earth; Christ’s body on earth and it is through Christ’s body that God will save the innocents. There’s no time for us to waste feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get busy.
There’s a song that helps me to remember the hope born in Bethlehem. These Hands
And so this is Christmas… Rachel weeps. We’ve been on vacation long enough. Our God has taken on flesh and dwells among us! It’s time for the work of Christmas to begin again. We are God’s hands!