4 Jan 2009
“‘Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.’” (Matt. 2:18)
In the name …
Have you ever said something to another person who is only half paying attention, and their immediate response is “What?”. If you don’t quickly repeat what you had just said, they end up responding to you anyway. For example, you’re driving in the car, paying more attention to the road than to the conversations in the car, someone asks you how much longer the drive is going to be, your automatic response is “What?”, but then without really thinking about it you respond to the question you originally thought you didn’t even hear. I’m guessing that somewhere hidden in the brain the other person was heard, but was heard unconsciously. That is until we stop for a moment, play the short-term memory tape back in our heads, and then there are the words we thought we had missed.
Likewise, there are two sets of circuits leading from our eyes to our brains. Our eyes send information to the part of our brain that processes visual information for us. Right now those circuits are working to let me see you and you see me. But there’s a second pathway from our eyes that leads to areas in the brain that process what we see, but has nothing to do with actually “seeing” anything.
A guy had a stroke that destroyed the pathway from his eyes to the visual part of his brain. All the other equipment worked fine, including the second pathway, but he couldn’t see anything. They did tests on the man by asking him to walk down a hallway strewn with obstacles. The blind man walked around all of them. His brain was processing information that was coming from his eyes down that second pathway, but because the pathway that lets us see was destroyed, he couldn’t see what his very own brain was perceiving.
The reason I speak about hearing what we don’t hear and seeing what we don’t see is that the same thing often happens with Christmas. We do, and we should, concentrate on the joy and promise of the Christ Child’s birth. We relish the stories of the angelic chorus breaching the darkness of night and proclaiming Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. In a couple of days, we’ll celebrate the story of the star and the Wise Men who followed it to the newborn king. Whose heart is not warmed by the account of a Saviour who is so humble and dedicated to us that He gives up heaven for an animal’s feed trough? When the Son of God crosses the barrier and becomes one of us on Christmas, life and creation are sanctified by His birth. John puts it wonderfully: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world may be saved through Him.” (3:17) Salvation starts at the manger not the cross. It comes to us through Jesus’ life not only His death. This world is holy.
This message is why Christmas is such a beautiful, hope-filled time of the year. But there’s more to the story of Christmas than this, and the parts that we often leave out are the ones we tend to hear but don’t hear, see but don’t see. These often overlooked tales of Christmas are what can some-times turn Christmas into something unattainable or at least unsustainable. We know of them, but don’t pay as much attention to them. Without the full story of Christmas though, the promise of Christ’s birth can’t withstand the meanness of our world. It’s as if Christmas is only real when all is going well around us. The stories of angels and stars will be no match for the stories in today’s newspapers if we don’t acknowledge the whole Christmas story. So today, the church reminds us that Christmas is also the story of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem.
Today we hear of Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She cries because her children, the tribes of northern Israel, are defeated and sent away in exile to Assyria, to modern day Iraq. Many of them will never return home again. The northern tribes of Israel become assimilated in the foreign lands of their captors. They intermarry; they take on the customs and gods of their neighbours. These are called the “lost tribes” of Israel. Matthew takes this Old Testament account of Rachel weeping over the exile of her children and applies it to Herod’s massacre of the baby boys of Bethlehem. I hope we know the story. King Herod is told of the newborn king by the Magi. To protect his own throne, after he has been duped by the Magi, Herod orders all the Bethlehem boys two and younger to be killed. If he doesn’t know which one is the king, Herod figures he’ll kill them all. Jesus is protected from this slaughter by an angel’s message to Joseph to flee into Egypt, but even as we rejoice in His protection, we must still remember the destruction of all those children at the hand of a tyrant.
Fr. Randy Calvo
The Holy Innocents are a part of the Christmas story. They can’t be ignored because their story is unpleasant. We have to hear and see them. And the reason they can’t be ignored is that there is a truth in their story. Christmas’ message of salvation, of light and hope, are still real in our world even when the world is cruel, and stupidly so. Those ancient “lost tribes” of Israel mean that the Jews and the Muslims of the Middle East have the same lineage. They are one people, separated by a belief in one God. Yet today we watch their ceaseless battles continue in Gaza and Israel. Sadly, the world is filled with such ridiculous violence all the time. And Rachel weeps.
Christmas sanctifies this life, makes it holy, even in the face of blatant, stupid evil. Christmas doesn’t flee before the headlines of all that is wrong in the world. Jesus came in spite of all that is hateful, in the midst of all that is cruel, and it’s no different today. Sometimes when things are bad we ask “Where is God?”, but maybe we should better ask “Where are the people who believe in God?”. Christmas should inspire us to value this world as much as God who sent His only Son into this damaged creation, and through the hope and promise of Christmas, we who believe should find the strength to confront the brokenness of this world and to do our part to change it for the better. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)