The First Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 2:13-18

WHILE PREPARING FOR THE SERMON FOR TODAY, I HAD SOME DIFFICULTLY FIGURING OUT WHAT THE TEXT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE. THE CHURCH CALENDAR MARKS TODAY AS THE COMMEMORATION OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS, AS IT HAS FOR THE LAST 1500 YEARS. THE REVISED STANDARD LECTIONARY, HOWEVER, LISTS THE GOSPEL FOR THE CIRCUMCISION OF JESUS. TO ADD TO THE CONFUSION, THE ADJUSTED EPISCOPAL LECTIONARY LISTS THE GOSPEL AS THE FIRST PART OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. AFTER SORTING IT OUT WITH STEVE, WE CONCLUDED THAT NO ONE WANTS TO PREACH ON THIS TEXT; HENCE THE CONFUSION. WE, HOWEVER, ARE NOT CONFUSED, AND SO WE WEAR THE RED OF THE MARTYRS IN THE MIDST OF THE WHITE OF CHRISTMAS, AND OUR TEXT IS THE ANCIENT STORY OF HORROR AND DEATH IN THE NIGHT.

WHAT HAPPENED DID NOT HAPPEN RIGHT AFTER THE NATIVITY AND AS SOON AS THE MAGI LEFT FOR HOME. IT WAS PROBABLY AS LONG AS TWO YEARS LATER. IT WAS, HOWEVER, INTIMATELY LINKED TO THE BIRTH OF JESUS. HEROD THE GREAT WAS INSANELY PARANOID. HE HAD ALREADY MURDERED THREE OF HIS SONS WHO HE SAW AS POTENTIAL RIVALS, WHICH INSPIRED THE EMPEROR OF THE DAY TO REMARK THAT IT WAS SAFER TO BE HEROD’S SWINE THAN HIS SON. AS HIS DEATH APPROACHED, AND AS HE KNEW HE WAS UNIVERSALLY HATED, HE PROSCRIBED THE DEATH OF THREE HUNDRED PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM JUST SO THERE WOULD BE MOURNING AT HIS DEATH. FORTUNATELY, THIS ORDER WAS IGNORED. WHAT HE DID WHEN INFORMED ABOUT THE BIRTH OF JESUS WAS COMPLETELY IN CHARACTER. WHEN HE WAS INFORMED BY THE MEN FROM THE EAST THAT THERE WAS A NEW KING IN TOWN, AND THEN WAS OUTSMARTED BY THEM, HE ORDERED THAT ALL MALE CHILDREN IN BETHLEHEM UNDER THE AGE OF TWO BE SLAIN.

IT WAS JUST AN ORDINARY DAY IN BETHLEHEM, A SLEEPY LITTLE TOWN OF PEACEFUL SILENT STREETS, WHICH WAS SHATTERED BY THE THUNDER OF HOOF BEATS, CONFUSED SHOUTING, GUT WRENCHING SCREAMS, UNTIL THE DOOR WAS KICKED IN, YOUR CHILD TORN FROM YOUR ARMS AND SPITTED ON THE END OF A ROMAN SWORD. SUCH A STORY, SUCH A HORROR, SEEMS ALMOST BEYOND BELIEF. WHAT HUMAN COULD DO SUCH THINGS?

IT WAS A QUIET DAY IN PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN, ON THE 16TH OF DECEMBER. MOST OF THE CHILDREN AGED 8 THROUGH 18 WERE IN THE AUDITORIUM OF THEIR SCHOOL LEARNING FIRST AID; LEARNING HOW TO SAVE THE LIFE OF ANOTHER. SEVEN TALIBAN INVADED THE SCHOOL, SHOOTING THE CHILDREN WEARING SCHOOL UNIFORMS IN THE HEAD AS THEY MOVED TO THE AUDITORIUM. THERE, THEY BURNED ALIVE THE PRINICPAL AND FOUR OTHER TEACHERS IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN, THEN PROCEEDED TO SHOOT THE CHILDREN IN THEIR HEADS. THE SPECIAL FORCES ARRIVED WITHIN 15 MINUTES, BUT BY THEN THE TOLL WAS 145 DEAD, 139 OF THEM CHILDREN. WHAT HUMAN COULD DO SUCH THINGS?

THE HOLY FAMILY HAD A WARNING, AND FLED TO EGYPT UNTIL HEROD WAS DEAD. THE CHILDREN OF PESHAWAR HAD NO WHERE TO RUN. THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO DO THESE THINGS ARE PEOPLE OBSESSED WITH POWER, AND WHO WANT TO RULE OVER THE LIVES OF OTHERS. EVIL IS NOT FROM GOD, IT IS ALWAYS FROM THE HEARTS OF MEN AND WOMEN. WHEN THE LIGHT OF LOVE WAS BORN INTO THE WORLD, THE DARKNESS IN THE HEART OF MAN WANTED TO SNUFF IT OUT. OVER SIX MILLION ARE FED TO THE GAS CHAMBERS FOR THE SAKE OF POWER. MILLIONS MORE ARE STARVED TO DEATH FOR A COLLECTIVIST VISION. EVEN IN A NON CHRISTIAN NATION LIKE PAKISTAN, WHEN THE LIGHT OF COMPASSION FOR OTHERS SHINES, INNOCENT CHILDREN LEARNING HOW TO SAVE LIVES ARE MURDERED FOR THE DARK DREAM OF POWER. THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENTS CRIES OUT TO GOD, AND WE, HEARING AND SEEING WHAT WE ALMOST CAN NOT COMPREHEND, WONDER, “WHERE IS OUR GOD?”

SILENTLY IN THE NIGHT HE CAME, BORN IN A CATTLE SHED, NOT TO THOSE WHO WIELD THE SWORD, BUT TO THE SHEPHERDS, THE LOWLY AND THE OUTCAST. HE CAME AS AN INNOCENT CHILD, WHO HAD TO BE PROTECTED AND NURTURED AS ANY OTHER CHILD; WHO HAD TO FLEE FROM THE POWERS OF THIS WORLD UNTIL, GROWN STRONG AND POWERFUL IN ALL HIS INNOCENCE, COULD FACE THE DARK POWERS OF THIS WORLD AND OFFER HIS INNOCENT BLOOD AS AN ATONEMENT FOR SIN, AND FOR THE SAKE OF INNOCENTS EVERYWHERE AND EVERYWHEN. IN LOWLINESS AND HUMILITY COMES THE VICTORY OF OUR GOD OVER ALL THE DARK DREAMS OF THE PROUD AND POWERFUL. IN HIS BLOOD IS THE SALVATION EVERLASTING, AND THE PRESENT AND FUTURE HOPE AND CONSOLATION OF HIS PEOPLE.

IN THE MIDST OF OUR CELEBRATION OF THE BIRTH OF OUR SAVIOR, AS WE SIT IN THE COMFORT OF OUR BEAUTIFUL SANCTUARY, HAVING OPENED OUR PRESENTS AND HAD OUR CHRISTMAS FEAST, AND ARE NOW CONSIDERING WHAT IS FOR LUNCH OR HOW WE WILL SPEND THE REST OF THIS JOYOUS DAY, WE ARE CALLED TO REMEMBER THAT LIFE DOES NOT GO WELL FOR EVERYONE. THERE IS STILL SUFFERING ALL AROUND US, AND THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENTS IS STILL BEING POURED OUT. I RECALL READING, BUT CAN’T REMEMBER WHERE, THAT KARL MENNINGER ONCE SAID THAT EACH OF US HAS BEEN PUT HERE TO DILUTE THE MISERY IN THE WORLD AND THAT EVEN IF WE COULDN’T MAKE A BIG CONTRIBUTION WE COULD EACH DO SOMETHING.

TODAY IS OUR REMINDER OF OUR CALLING AND OUR OBLIGATION TO DO SOMETHING FOR THOSE AROUND US WHO DO NOT SEE THE JOY OF THE SEASON IN THEIR LIVES. WE MAY NOT BE ABLE ALONE TO STOP THE INSANE AND DARK DREAMS OF THOSE WHO WANT TO RULE OVER OTHERS, BUT WE CAN STAND AGAINST THEM. WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO ALLEVIATE ALL THE SUFFERING IN THIS WORLD, BUT WE CAN GIVE A COAT TO THE ONE WHO HAS NONE, OR SOME OF OUR SPARE CHANGE SO THEY CAN GET A HOT MEAL. LAST SATURDAY, AS I WAITED FOR THE LIGHT AT AN OFF RAMP, THERE WAS A YOUNG MAN HOLDING A SIGN WHICH SAID, “ANYTHING WILL HELP.” TWO CARS IN FRONT OF ME THE DRIVER CALLED THE MAN OVER AND GAVE HIM A BOTTLE OF WATER AND A WRAPPED BURRITO. IN THANKFULNESS, THE YOUNG MAN DROPPED TO THE GROUND AND HUNGRILY ATE HIS GIFT.

AS THE BLOOD OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS WAS SHED FOR THE LIFE OF THE CHRIST CHILD, HIS BLOOD WAS SHED FOR US THAT WE WOULD HAVE LIFE IN HIM. THE SHADOW OF THE CROSS LIES OVER THE MANGER, AND THE LIFE WE HAVE IN JESUS IS THE LIFE OF THE CROSS; A LIFE OFFERED UP FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS. THIS IS THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS; THAT THE LIGHT OF GOD’S LOVE HAS BROKEN INTO THE WORLD IN SPITE OF THE POWER OF THE DARK, AND WE, LIVING IN THE LIGHT OF GOD’S LOVE IN JESUS, ARE TO BE THE LIGHT OF GOD’S LOVE FOR OTHERS IN THIS DARK WORLD; THE TRUE LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS.
AMEN

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