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Sermons > Sunday after the New Year

3 Jan 2010

“For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God that is a grace.”  (1 Peter 2:19)                                        In the name …

Did you hear the story this past week out of Denver about a mother who died during the birth of her child?  It was Christmas Eve.  The husband was holding her hand during the delivery.  Suddenly the mother became tired, closed her eyes, and then she went into cardiac arrest.  She was flat-lined.  The doctors rushed her to the operating room.  While nurses were administering CPR to the mother, the doctors performed an emergency c-section to try and save the baby.  When the child was handed over to his father, the baby was limp and lifeless.  Then all of a sudden the baby began to breathe on his own.  In the father’s words, “Life actually began in the palm of my hands.”  Then without any medical reason the mother’s heart began to beat again too.  Her doctor said that she cannot explain either the mother’s cardiac arrest or the recovery.  The father credited the “the hand of God” for this miracle.  He said, “We are both believers … but this right here, even a nonbeliever – you explain to me how this happened.  There is no other explanation.”  When the doctor was asked about whether there may have been some heavenly help in all of this, she said, “Wherever I can get the help, I’ll take it.”

On the same day that all of this was taking place, one person or maybe more were planning their arson spree in Northampton.  As many as twenty structures or vehicles were set ablaze that night, and a father and his son were killed.  Families had to watch helplessly after they had run out into the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  Some kinds of possessions can be replaced, but photos, heirlooms and the other things that we associate with the people, events and places we hold dear to us, they are forever lost.  What lingers now is the fear and apprehension that the arson will continue.  Experts who deal with arson say that it is very likely that the person or persons who set these fires lives in the same vicinity.  The arsonist is thrilled and satisfied by the death, destruction and fear that he has brought to his neighbours.  Since this is the case, I think the time around Christmas was chosen on purpose.  The contrast between the family gatherings and the general good will of the season, and the violence and depravity of twenty arson fires, I believe, was intentional.

At the same time of the Christmas miracle in Denver, a Muslim extremist was making his final preparations to blow-up an airliner full of people and to do so as the plane was on its final approach to the Detroit airport so that even more people would be killed on the ground.  Al Qaeda in Arabia claimed responsibility for training this remorseless terrorist, obtaining the explosives, teaching him how to use them, and for preaching the religious message of hatred and violence that continues to inspire these religious fanatics.  And again, I have to think that Christmas Day was chosen for this attempted act of mass murder so that it would stand out against the celebrations of the hope and joy we associate with Jesus’ birth.

I wonder if these constantly repeated themes of history have anything to do with why Matthew incorporates the tragic account of the Holy Innocents in his Christmas story.  He doesn’t have to tell this story.  No one else does.  There must be purpose to the account.  Herod was a merciless tyrant.  It is told of this man that he had left orders that upon his death his soldiers would murder indiscriminately a great number of his subjects.  He planned this last act of violence so that there would be great mourning in his kingdom at the time of his death.  He knew that the people would not cry at his passing so he would have them mourn when he died because of all the others who would die with him.  With this as part of the historical record, it is not far-fetched to believe that Herod would order the murder of all the male children two years of age and younger in the relatively small village of Bethlehem.  If Herod could not find the one who was the newborn king of the Jews, the one who would possibly take Herod’s kingdom from him, then Herod would simply murder all of the little boys of Bethlehem.  For him this was only smart politics. 

We know from the rest of the Bible story that an angel had warned Joseph to flee in the night with Mary and Jesus into Egypt to avoid this savagery of Herod.  The Holy Child is protected, but the Holy Innocents all die.  The promised Saviour will live to bring God’s message to all the world, but simultaneously with His birth the all too common acts of human savagery continue.  For me Matthew is only reflecting the reality of our faith and our lives in his account.  God Himself can enter into our world on that first Christmas.  God can still perform wondrous Christmas miracles still today like the story of the mother and baby in Denver that even the doctor credited to God as a mystery.  But still the evil and depravity of people exists.  The sad story of the Holy Innocents reflects this historical reality of our lives and our world both then and now, and most likely tomorrow too.

As people who believe in Christmas, that God has entered and sanctified this world of ours, the message of the Holy Innocents is that we cannot retreat into sanctuaries even in the face of all the evil in our world or maybe even especially because of all the evil in our world.  We can and must find our bearings in our sanctuaries and be replenished here, but we must also battle for our world.  The holy and the good cannot be isolated into special places and times.  As believers in Christmas, we must struggle to keep God in the world if only by our own examples or hopefully also by the good we can do together as church.  Human evil is a reality.  But when we “bear the pain of unjust suffering,” as Peter writes for us today, “because of consciousness of God that is grace.”  Evil is not in any way a proof against God.  The Holy Innocents murdered by Herod testify to this 2,000 years ago when God first entered our world as one of us, and the arsonists and terrorists of today do nothing but the same.  Let us pray that in the face of evil our Christmas faith may remain strong so that we may fight back for this world that the baby Jesus has made holy.  And for this strength and determination we pray in His name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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