Sunday, 29 December 2013

First Sunday of Christmas

As we continue to celebrate Christmas with the joyful singing of carols there are other voices, darker voices, that seek to silence these beautiful strains. This morning our attention is drawn away for the image of peace and silence around the stable in Bethlehem, we look instead in to the heart of a man of great violence and hatred, into the acts that Gods children are capable of – murder

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet
     Jeremiah:  "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud
     lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be
     consoled because they were no more."

Rachel of course is a central character within Salvation history, the story of God and humanity seen through the eyes and felt in the experiences of the people of the first covenant, our Jewish brothers and sisters. Rachel never had it easy.  On the one hand she had Laban for a father.  On the other she had Jacob for a husband.  Then there was her older sister Leah.

She was the prettier of Laban's daughters when Jacob came to work for them
and she stole Jacob's heart the first time he laid eyes on her.  Jacob
agreed to work seven long years for her and he was good on his word.  But
when it came time to close the deal Laban tricked him and sent Leah into
the wedding chamber heavily veiled.  Jacob ended up having to work another seven long years for Rachel while learning to live with Leah for whom he didn't bargain.  When they finally did get married, Rachel found that she couldn't have children Her sister Leah has four and so further insult was laid upon Rachel.
Eventually, Rachel did have a child named Joseph.  She just didn't get to enjoy him for very long.  By the time she gave birth to her second baby, her body wasn't up to it.  With her dying breath, she named him Benoni, which means 'child of my sorrow'.  Jacob eventually changed it to Benjamin.

She became a symbol for Israel, in other words, of inconsolable sorrow.
How can anyone console you when so much that seems to happen to you is
unfair and full of sadness?  So, when the Babylonians carried off Israel
into exile centuries later, Jeremiah wrote that it was like old Rachel was
still crying out from her grave.  Rachel's children were God's children.

returning to the writing of St Matthew we see the brutal face of Herod hanging over the Christmas story like a funeral pall.  It is about a cruelty, an utter disregard for human life that we see again and again throughout scripture and throughout human history.

     Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet...

The slaughter of the innocents in Matthew may be a pious legend or it may have really taken place but in our day it is a fact of life for thousands of women and children who are the victims of violence in this world every passing day. 

When we support government policies or buy products from corporations without demanding accountability for the kinds of circumstances in which they were made, the conditions of the most vulnerable in our midst, we end up with innocent blood on our hands.

Rachel still cries out from the grave for her children who are no more.

Many are in their “Babylon” a place of exile a place of captivity, in the sweat shops of Asia or those who are trafficked as modern day slaves.

We will not return home, none of us, until we learn to weep
with Rachel, until we learn to weep with the God who cannot forget any of
his children. For her tears and God’s tears are a sign of love, and the Christmas Story is a love story. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…”

It is through the tears of another woman Mary Magdalane that the reality and truth of the resurrection is comprehended and it is in our tears of compassion and love that God is able to bring about the miracle of resurrection and life eternal.

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