Wednesday, December 28, 2011
St. Matthew ii. 13.
THE angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Christmas… A time of happiness?
Yes… And… No.
I learned a valuable lesson at five years old. My parents took me to a Christmas tree farm out in the country and we picked out a beautiful spruce tree and actually watched the owner of the farm cut it down with a chain saw.
We took the tree home and decorated it. Being the early 1970’s we put the rather large old fashioned type of Christmas tree lights on it. You know…The old fashioned kind of lights that you really only see used outside now days.After decorating the tree we sat back and drank some hot chocolate and talked and we marveled at the beauty of three. It had some very fragile glass ornaments on it and literally several pounds of the silver looking string tinsel you also don’t see very often anymore on indoor trees.
I woke up the next morning and realized that the lights on the Christmas tree had been left on all night when I walked past the living room. And… Those large old fashioned lights were known for getting pretty hot. Even at five years old I realized that to leave the lights on the tree plugged in all night was a fire hazard.
I quickly ran up and looked at the tree. And… Suddenly, I saw hundreds… Literally, many hundreds of baby spiders crawling everywhere.
Some of the spiders had crawled onto the lights and had burned to death and shriveled up. However, almost all of them were very much alive. The spiders were dropping onto the presents. They covered the ornaments. Again… The spiders were literally everywhere. It looked like the whole tree was squirming and moving.Obviously, baby spiders had hatched out during the night as we had slept. There must have been an egg case in the branches of the tree that we simply didn’t see when we decorated it.
I was filled with fear and anguish. I ran and hurriedly woke my parents up. My father cursed and went to the spare bedroom and hurriedly wrapped a sheet around the tree. He pulled the plug to the Christmas lights out of the wall so hard sparks literally flew everywhere. My Dad then pulled the tree…Ornaments and all and threw it on the edge of the street for the garbage man to pick-up.My mother was despondent and simply cried inconsolably.
Christmas was pretty much ruined that year.
That incident taught me at a very early age bad things happen at Christmas. I recall a few years back I that had a newly ordained member of the clergy call me and ask about, “all the negativity on the Church Calendar right after Christmas.” This individual was talking about the Martyrdom of St. Stephen on the 26th of December, The Feast of the Holy Innocents celebrated on the 28th of December that commemorates all the innocent male children that died by King Herod’s order when he was trying to kill the infant Jesus and the Martyrdom of St. Thomas Beckett on the 29th of December.
Holy Innocents has always been a special day at our house. Not only do we like it as a feast day...But both my wife and dog have birthdays on December 28th. My wife, Sabrina, is always happy when it falls close enough to Sunday to be celebrated during a regular service. No such luck this year.
Although, the world has already moved on to the next holiday on the Hallmark calendar…We in the church get to keep singing Christmas songs, celebrating, and hanging on to that warm and wonderful Christmas feeling….Right?…Well… No…Not really…. Our reading for the Holy Innocents hits us in the face like one of those giant inch and a half thick candy canes (which I loved as kid) across the bridge of our nose…With the terrible story about the slaughter of innocent babies….
Herod, that evil king, in his desire to preserve his power, had a whole village of children under two years old murdered. Just to make sure he would have no competition for his throne. He had heard, through the wise men from the East, that a king had been born. But the wise men had fled back home without telling Herod exactly who this “new“ king was.
Into our season of Christmas joy our lectionary reading destroys our all our holiday cheer with the thought of babies dying, innocent children, at the hands of a tyrant….Let’s look at it like this…The Gospels are not only concerned with spreading the joy of Jesus Christ (which I assure you they are). They are also given to us to explain the truth….You and I all know that the truth is not always a pretty thing. Matthew is not worried about our holiday spirit as much as he is about showing us truth.
The whole point of Christmas is to give hope to tragedies like the Holy Innocents…..I’m going to say that again…. The whole point of Christmas is to give hope to tragedies like this. To say to those suffering, in pain, “fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy – a Savior is born!” When we start thinking in these terms it makes sense that we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents in the Christmas Season. For we no longer have NO hope…We have a Savior. We have Jesus Christ…We now have hope! We now have nothing to fear!
The world is a hard place…. and like Herod it will try to silence the Good News of Jesus Christ. The harshness of this world will try to distract us and make us doubt. The world will bring each of us trouble and heartache. Each one of us carry heartache….Our own burdens. Our own anguish in our hearts….But now…We can “fear not”.
But rather than letting the harshness of this world turn us away from Jesus, let us rely on Christ as the Savior from all our suffering…A savior from our brokeness and heartbreak. For the promise of his birth, now fulfilled, shows God's faithfulness in all His promises of forgiveness and the paradise that waits for all those who just believe.
Whatever tragedy you face, whatever cause for weeping and mourning, whatever great sadness or guilt or pain you bring here today…Or, will face tomorrow – find hope in Christ. Find forgiveness and blessing. Look forward in faith and trust in a God who always keeps his promises… “Fear not”.
The Holy Innocents…Were among the first martyrs of the Church. They were some of the first to give their lives for Christ. The Holy Innocents helped God save his Son, and kept Jesus from the slaughter, only to give him over to a horrible and cruel death, later to a different Herod. Why? Because Jesus had a mission. We have to realize that if one separates the Incarnation from the Crucifixion, one doesn’t fully get Christmas…Or, Christianity for that matter.
Our greatest present this season does not come from under a tree but HE did die on one. Christ’s resurrection from suffering and death becomes our resurrection from the cold dark grave of despair… Jesus was delivered, and so are we.
May your Christmas heartache give way to Christmas joy, as you find hope and comfort in the Christ who was born for you. Who died for you…And…Who is a present for you……………Merry Christmas!