Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Sermon for Holy Innocents

Although written three years ago, nothing has changed

A few days ago I received a circular letter from a Christian organisation with their Presidents message for the Christmas Season. I have to say I receive quite a number of such letters and pay little attention but something caught my eye in this letter, the sentiment of the opening paragraph. Without quoting exactly, it was ‘well what with the credit crunch and wars around the world I am finding it hard to get into the Christmas spirit’ - and I wonder how many people felt the same, but I found it a little disturbing. It was as if Christmas should be some sort of distraction from the real world, as if the message of Christmas was all about taking our minds off the reality of the world. And I found it disturbing because here was someone in a very senior position in a church organisation, who seemed to imagine this to be true - as if we needed Peace on Earth in order to celebrate Christmas -but the message of Christmas is that God does not wait for the world to get itself ready for his appearing, that global economic meltdown and wars and rumours of wars is the world into which God comes in Jesus.

Put another way - if we in our wisdom and power have got the world all sorted out  - well then a Saviour arriving on the scene isn’t good news, because we don’t need one, we’ve saved ourselves.

To paraphrase one Christian Writer, the message of Christmas is not that everything is fine - it’s far from fine, but in Jesus God has made a decisive start on putting things right and shows us a new way - but it is not an easy way, it is the way of Love. Not a romanticised Love - not the sort of Love often on the lips of Christians which ignores the reality of the world and blithely announces ‘I Love everybody’ - but the Love of Christ that sees the world as it is and then lays down it’s life for this cruel and broken world - greater Love. When Jesus appears on the scene we see Love in Reality - and so we see the World as it truly is.

As we do on this day - The feast of the Holy Innocents.  The slaughter of all the male children under two by Herod. A reminder of Pharaoh - his injunction that all the male Hebrew babies should be  killed at birth. Rather like the romantic view of Moses in the basket which clouds our imaginations to the wholesale slaughter of children around him - the birth of Jesus may be so romanticised that we forget Holy Innocents. We may wish to escape into a fantasy Christmas with words about ‘Christmas Spirit’ and familiar rituals and forget today’s Holy Innocents - we may choose to ignore the truth that that today’s rulers think the daily death of 36,000 children of malnutrition or from lack of clean water is a price worth paying for  'Progress', or 'National Security', or the greatest of all Idols, 'keeping the economy on track'. When the powers that be are disturbed the most vulnerable in society are always the victims - I do not need to tell you what will happen because we know - in the need to tighten our belts - the shamefully small aid budgets of the wealthy will be reduced even further. I gather that despite the credit crunch people have continues to spend on Christmas but at the same time charities are reporting sharp decreases in donations. When the rulers of this age be they ’the economy’ be they Pharaoh be they Herod - when they are threatened the weakest are sent to the wall as a price worth paying. And the weakest are the frail and elderly, and the children.

The Holy Innocents. Why do we use this word Innocent for children? Because they are powerless - they are wholly irresponsible for the way the world is - Who creates wars? Who creates violence? Who creates unjust economic orders? Who makes a mess of the world? Not children but adults. Here again is that strange revealing of the Nature of Love.

A child, uniquely amongst humanity embodies perfectly the human vocation - to be recipients of Love and to give love in return - it is only as we bring them up that they forget the way of Love. And we in our wisdom think we know how to bring children up, that their vocation is to become like us adults. But Jesus says the exact opposite -  ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like children you shall not enter the Kingdom of God’. And when we think about becoming like children the true cost of Love is revealed - for we see what happens to children - what happens to the weak and the vulnerable in our society and across the World, we see what the World does to them, not only two thousand years ago around Bethlehem but today.

And we are frightened of that reality - why becoming like a child, eschewing control and power, entering into weakness and vulnerability. So we hedge ourselves round with reasons to ignore Jesus’ way of Love - ‘why, if we became like children we think’ - the world would go to pot! Well folks, take off the dark glasses - the world has gone to pot and only the children are innocent. Only the children are not responsible for the way the world is. Funny isn’t it - how we try to bring children up to be responsible . . .

This is why the freedom which Jesus brought was rejected and continues to be rejected to this day both by those inside and outside of the church - because freedom means vulnerability and we prefer life trapped by the walls we’ve built for ourselves to defend ourselves than accept the offer of freedom and vulnerability which Jesus brings. We see what happens to the weak and are trapped by the Herod’s and Pharaoh’s of this age. But the way of the Holy Innocents is also the way of The Holy Innocent - The Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas address says the following “Human beings, left to themselves, have imagined God in all sorts of shapes; but it took Christianity to introduce the world to the idea of God in the form of a baby: in the form of complete dependence and fragility, without power or control.” In the birth of Jesus we see the Life of Jesus - born in weakness and vulnerability, living in weakness and vulnerability and dying in weakness and vulnerability - and so revealing the truth about the World and the Truth about Love. Upon the Cross St Paul reminds us - Jesus unmasks and dethrones the powers and authorities of this world - it is only as the world is confronted with something alien and strange to itself that its true nature is revealed.

The Holy Innocent’s don’t fight back - the cruelty of the world is revealed - Jesus unlike so many failed Messiah’s does not come into Jerusalem with an army - he is the only Messiah we remember because Jesus alone did not answer the world’s violence with violence and so hide the truth about the world, rather he confronted it with Love and so unmasked the world’s truth.

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one* might boast in the presence of God.

Christmas is truly about children, it’s about learning from children, it’s about relearning our humanity from children because as Christians we believe that God comes to us as a vulnerable child and he calls us to follow his way -  the way of vulnerability, the way of weakness, the way of Love, which is the power of God.

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