29 December 2013

This is a tough Sunday to preach, coming after the Christmas celebrations of this week. The Gospel reading is the slaughter of the children under King Herod. Can you imagine anything less consistent with the “good cheer” of Christmas Day?

But perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps we need to be reminded that great joy and great suffering exist right beside each other. Perhaps we need to be reminded that even as we celebrate, others grieve, and our celebration is empty and destructive unless we also work to create a reason for the least and most vulnerable among us to celebrate. Perhaps it’s good for us to go directly from “Peace on earth and good will to humanity” to the reality of violence, destruction and suffering, so that we can renew our commitment to the Christmas message in the light of the pain of our world, rather than in some celebratory vacuum.

May your worship and preaching today offer a real and robust reason for joy and hope in our broken and hurting world.

READINGS:
Isaiah 63:7-9: A Psalm of praise for God’s love for God’s people, and God’s deliverance and mercy which carries them.

Psalm 148: A call for creation to praise God, for God’s glory is over all, and God uplifts and strengthens God’s people.

Hebrews 2:10-18: Through Jesus, who became human, like us, and who was tempted, like us, God has brought us, as Christ’s sisters and brothers, into God’s glory.

Matthew 2:13-23: Herod slaughters all boys two years and younger after being outwitted by the wise men, but Jesus and his parents, after being warned by God, have already fled to Egypt. After Herod’s death, they return to the land of Israel and settle in Nazareth.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
This is a tough day in the Lectionary, coming right after the Christmas celebration. While it can be tempting to avoid the obvious difficulties with today’s readings and just stay with expressions of faith and rejoicing in the coming of Christ and the promise of God’s deliverance, even from enemies who would seek to destroy God’s purposes, to do this is to do our people – and the Scriptures – a disservice. While it is good to affirm that God’s plan of salvation is worked out throughout biblical history, and in our own times and lives, the shocking image of the innocent children who are slaughtered as Christ escapes cannot be avoided. Neither can the reality of the millions of innocent children who die daily through poverty, war, curable diseases and human trafficking. To ignore this horrific story, or to focus only on Christ’s escape, is to paint God as a heartless manipulator of history, and human beings as expendable pawns. Rather, the challenge of this passage is to seek to understand the impact that Herod’s cold abuse of power had on Christ and his life. It is to recognise the grief of God in the cry of the mothers who lost their children. And it is to recognise God’s grief for the lost innocents of our world today. Then, as our hearts are broken, we cannot help but follow Christ into a life of protecting the most vulnerable, and of holding our leaders accountable to justice and integrity for the sake of the poor. The message of Christmas, then, is not just that God is with us, but that through us, God seeks to be with all people, especially those who are grieving, suffering and marginalised.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: It would be wonderful to be able to say that Herods no longer exist in the halls of power in our world, but we all know this is not the case. Some of our leaders are deliberately corrupt, feeling nothing for bringing suffering and devastation on their nation and people, while they enjoy privilege, prosperity and power. Others are simply weak, unable to resist the temptations of power and greed, and unable to stand against those who lead them into corruption through promises of financial and political support. And all the while, people in poverty-stricken, debt-crippled countries suffer and die, ignored by the powerful and wealthy. In this scenario, though, there are leaders – of government, of business, of faith communities, of the arts – that stand with integrity and courage against injustice. It is important for us to identify these leaders and support them in prayer and in any other way we can. But, it is equally important for us, as followers of the ultimate leader, Christ, to speak out against any slaughters of innocents we become aware of, and to do what we can to work for the healing and restoration of those who are being harmed or ignored. Among the issues we need to be involved with, human trafficking stands out as a modern “slaughter of the innocents” which must call us to prayer and action in Christ’s name.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Preachers have a tough time this Sunday. It is quite possible that, after the Christmas joy, this Sunday’s service could feel like a wet blanket. However, it can also be a celebration of justice and a call to life if handled well. Two emphases that can help to make this happen are as follows: 1. God is at work to save and protect the innocent, the marginalised and the poor. God is also at work, in Christ, leading us, as God’s people, into the abundant life Christ promised. God hears both the cry of the most vulnerable, and our cry. This is a gift of grace and a source of tremendous hope and joy. 2. As in Christ, God came to raise up the least and to include and restore the marginalised, so God invites us to participate in this work of joy-bringing, life-giving and saving. And it is as we particpate in God’s reign – which has come to us in Christ – that we discover life, guidance and salvation for ourselves. As we embrace these two emphases, and the life they offer, we can begin to identify the grieving and hurting ones in our midst and make a commitment to speak for them, to serve them and to protect them in any way we can.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Through Our Tears
Hear Our Cry
The Sound Of Tears
It’s My Problem, Too

Hymn Suggestions:
Ye Servants Of God
It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
O God Our Help In Ages Past
Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
There Is None Like You (Link to YouTube video)
We Won’t Stay Silent (Link to YouTube video)
All Creation Sing (Joy To The World)
Love Came Down
You Are God

Liturgy:
A Liturgy Of Compassion

Video Suggestions
:
Where Is God?
What Would Jesus Buy?

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