I do Morning Prayer at our church most Fridays, it is the habit of our church to do Morning Prayer every weekday morning, and those of us who do it are committed to this practice. (one note of clarification - if the church office is closed, MP may or may not be conducted) It is usually at 9:00am, and usually in the chapel, but we tend to be a bit flexible, personal schedules and church events sometimes dictate changes (I keep hearing "the space always wins" and I wholeheartedly agree).
Today is a special day of commemoration, a day we remember someone special or an event that stands out. Today is The Holy Innocents. Most "Red Letter" days are remembering Saints or something like the annunciation, and are considered feast days, but not today. Today we remember the children that were slaughtered at the order of King Herod when he learned that the Wise men had left and did not tell him where to find the Christ child as told us in Matthew 2;
"16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” "
You cannot feast on a day that remembers the death of the innocent. That this is two weeks after the death of 18 children does not escape me, nor does the fact that on that day after I had completed Morning Prayer, ten minutes later a nightmare was unleashed on a school that was preparing for the Christmas vacation.
On the 21st at the conclusion of Morning Prayer at 9:30 am our church bells were rung in memory of those that had died - and at each tolling I spoke aloud the name of each victim, than prepared to give out toys to parents who had applied for Toys for Tots from us. Concluding that day - the shortest day of the year and the longest night, a Homeless Memorial service was held, concluding with speaking aloud those homeless men and women that had died.
Christmas is remembered and constructed as a magical sugarplum time, where families are joyous and all is right with the world, but that is not, nor has it been the case. We miss those that died during the year more keenly at Christmas than say Labor Day. Tragedy still occurs, death, sickness or loneliness do not take a holiday. In this week alone a retired Bishop of the Episcopal church died, as did the father of a recently ordained Deacon, and a nieces' Father in Law took a turn for the worse, and these are the ones I know of. There are more I am certain.
Yet in and through this we can and do say "Alleluia, To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia"(BCP MPII pg 80)
and I will share with you why; because Jesus is not the reason for the season.
I attended our church’s Midnight service and the Christmas Day service and heard this from Father Daniel, Jesus is not the reason for the season, Now before you call the local news stations and decry a war on Christmas at the Episcopal church, continue reading.
But first a disclaimer: this is based on Daniels sermon and I will try to identify which are his heresies and which are mine, by putting a (D) next to his statements as best as I can recall them (along with italicizing them), just so you know what to tell the Bishop when you see him next
We romanticize the nativity (D) – Mary beaming, Baby Jesus cooing, Joseph standing over keeping watch, the adoration of the shepherds. But births are far from romantic, they are messy, painful, panic filled, scary and not private – and this is in a modern hospital with Doctors, nurses, anesthetists, (with that team there is NO privacy), clean, and germ controlled. The birth of Jesus was – and I’m guessing on this part – panic filled. Where could a out of town couple stay or go to deliver this baby, talk about not finding the car keys, this couple could not find a place to stop to rest for themselves, let alone a private spot for Mary to give birth. A manager is the best they could find, and not the beautiful one represented on our mantels, closer to a dank, dark, cold, cave – hollowed out from a hillside. No doctor, no nurse and not even a midwife, just Joseph. So rethink the nativity – a teenage girl, her first child, no bed, and only Joseph to help the hours of labor and than the delivery.
So if this whole thing is scary, dangerous and not easy, why did God do it? Why would Christ come to earth in the form of a baby: homeless, in the care of a teenager and an older man. Why would God do that? Did God need us?(D)
Have you thought of that – does God need us?
Or is it the other way around, we needed God (D)
In a world where there was political corruption, roman peace (a peace that was kept with the edge of a sword), financial exploitation and human disposability, God sent His Son for us.
There are wonderful traditions that families have to remind children that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth, birthday cakes to Jesus is just one and I’m not saying we should chuck them out the door with the bath water. However the true reason for the season - is you and me. (D) We are the reason God sent His Son, we needed God in the incarnate, Immanuel, God is with us. God. is. with. us: in the painful, panic filled, scary moments, in our wounded world.
Jesus chose to touch us where we hurt.(D) Did you catch that, He CHOSE to touch us where WE hurt, and in that touch is healing to our souls and hearts. In choosing to touch us we than are directed to touch others where they hurt, in their wounded world. So we give out toys to parents who have no other means of giving something to their children on Christmas day, we have a homeless memorial to remember the ones very few what to acknowledge existed, we have a food pantry and a clothing closet, we house a dental and medical clinic. That is only what we do - other churches do other services that meets the needs of their community: House of Hope, family intervention, women and children shelters, the list goes on and on and it should. We who have been touched where we are want to reach out and touch others where they are. Than we continue to pray and worship- for in prayer and worship we become grounded and revived to continue the Monday to Sunday walk.
"We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. "
-Collect of the Day: The Holy Innocents
"Alleluia, To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia"(BCP MPII pg 80)
at the Episcopal Cafe' The Lead