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First Sunday of Christmas

Posted on 31 Dec 2013, Preacher: Dena Williams

1228The Massacre of the Innocents-VOLTERRA, Daniele da

The back story:
[The wise men, sent by King Herod,
found the child Jesus, with Mary,
in Joseph’s house in Bethlehem.
Warned in a dream,
not to return to King Herod,
the wise men left for their own country by another road.]

Today’s Gospel:
Now after the wise men left Joseph’s house,
an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother,
and flee to Egypt,
and remain there until I tell you;
for Herod is about to search for the child,
to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night,
and went to Egypt,
and remained there until the death of Herod.
This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

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.

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 are no more.”
When Herod died,
an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother,
and go to the land of Israel,
for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother,
and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod,
he was afraid to go there.
And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.
There he made his home in a town called Nazareth,
so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled,
“He will be called a Nazorean.”

The Gospel of the Lord

* * *

What is Left?

It was Christmas Eve,
only five days ago . . .
we heard Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth.
It’s the manger scene we set up in our homes.
It’s Luke’s story we see so beautifully imaged right here in our sanctuary.

Many of you probably hold memories of mangers in your life:
the nativity set from your childhood in your family’s living room,
the Christmas pageant in which you were a shepherd,
the times your children or grandchildren got to be Mary or Joseph,
an angel of the Lord, or even the Baby Jesus.

What is it about this simple scene that calls us to reenact it every year,
to carve it out of wood,
to cast it in porcelain?
These few short verses from the Bible are restaged.
This tiny piece of ancient history called to mind over and over again.
What is the fascination?
Why is our life not complete without the presence of this manger scene from Luke’s Gospel?

Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth,
the one we hear today, is different.
In Matthew,
the coming birth is announced by an angel,
not to Mary,
but to Joseph in a dream.

And Matthew’s announcement of the birth of the Savior of the world?
Summed up in these few words:
“In the time of King Herod,
after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
wise men from the East came to Jerusalem . . .”

Where are Luke’s shepherds?
Where are the sheep?
The shepherds and sheep are gone,
returned to the fields.
They must be back at work, watching their flocks, by now.


The Angel of the Lord?
The voices proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to God’s people on earth!”
Where are the angel voices?
Gone, now—no angelic appearance in this Gospel.
A truly silent night prevails.


“I said the donkey shaggy and brown,
I carried his mother to Bethlehem town.
I said the cow all white and red,
I gave him my manger for his bed.
I said the sheep with the curly horn,
I gave him my wool for a blanket warm.
I said the dove from the rafters high,
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I.

Donkey and cow, sheep and dove—
have no role in Matthew’s story.


And Luke’s stable with its manger of hay,
where is it in Matthew?
Gone . . .


And the wise men?
Overwhelmed with joy,
bringing gifts for the child?
Where are they?
Even Matthew’s wise men go away—
return to their country by another road.


What is left?
A family—a mom, a dad, a child.
Alone and afraid.

They flee to a strange land,
at night,
on the road in the darkness,
running away from danger—a mom, a dad, a child—
undocumented immigrants.

Afraid, very, very afraid.

Last summer, a young couple Aurora and Matias,
took their 5 month old infant, Emily, to a Mexican hospital.
She was very ill . . .
My daughter, Wendy tells their story:
The doctors say the child has a hole in her heart
and there is nothing to be done.
The medical staff unplugs the baby’s oxygen,
takes the ID bands from the baby’s tiny wrist,
and tells the parents they must take her and leave.
All hospital records for the baby will be destroyed.
There will be no evidence she was ever a patient at the hospital.

Wendy’s story might end here,
except for a single caring adult,
my friend, Doctora San Juana Mendoza.
She is a physician who serves the poorest of the poor in Juarez.
She finds a hospital and physicians in El Paso who will treat the baby,
a pediatric cardiac surgeon who will fly in.
Baby Emily is rushed by ambulance across the border to Providence Hospital in El Paso,
blue and nearly lifeless.
Doctora Mendoza accompanies her parents from to the border guard office on the bridge between Juarez and El Paso.
It takes them ten hours to obtain visas to cross.
There are conversations—
laws are cited, explanations are made, pleas for mercy extended.
Border guards go to the NICU at the hospital to . . .
fingerprint the infant.
Finally, temporary visas are issued.

The next day life saving surgery is performed.
Her heart is repaired.
Emily’s lungs are weak.
She struggles to breath.

Three days later,
my daughter and I are in El Paso to visit Pastor Rosemary Sanchez-Guzman
and Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey,
Cristo Rey Lutheran Church.
The parents’ visa is set to expire at midnight . . . on Labor Day.
By law, they are required to leave their child,
return to Mexico,
and risk never seeing their struggling infant alive again.

At 9:00 that night,
Doctora Mendoza calls Pastor Rosemary:
“Go now,” she says.
“Take Pastor Dena with you and
go to the bridge, to the border guard office.”
Pastor Rosemary calls a member of her congregation.
He picks us up and takes us to the bridge.

It’s dark and pouring rain.
I have no idea why I’m there or what I’m supposed to do!

Rosemary urges me to talk to the border guard.
Okay . . . I talk.
It takes an hour or so.
They tell us to go and bring Aurora and Matias back with us to the bridge,
and, they tell us, time is running out.
We go to the hospital, bring the parents back with us.
The young mother is terrified.
We wait for another hour.
I’ve known Aurora, the mother, since she was eight years old.
We reminisce and try to reassure her and her husband.
Her hands tremble as she is finger printed yet again.
Finally, just before midnight, emergency visas are issued.

As it turns out,
Pastor Rosemary was there because she knows how all this works,
or doesn’t work as the case may be;
I was there to be the white person,
the one to whom the border guard chief addressed all his remarks,
to whom he ultimately handed the permits for three more weeks even though I turned aside,
indicating he should hand them to Pastor Rosemary
or to Aurora and Matias.

What is left?
A family—
Alone and afraid.

They flee to a strange land,
at night,
on the road in the darkness,
running away from danger—a family—
undocumented immigrants.

King Herod, it seems, lives and breathes and has being,
even now.

King Herod . . .
he was infuriated.
He sent and killed all the children
in and around Bethlehem
who were two years old or under.

The historicity of this event—
the slaughter of the holy innocents—
that’s what it’s called in the church calendar—
is an event not documented in historical sources.
Oh, history demonstrates Herod was evil.
He killed his own wife and son to protect his throne.

The population of Bethlehem and surrounding areas,
in the days of King Herod,
is documented.
Historians write of the tiny town—
it was no more than 20 children who maybe died at Herod’s hand.
That’s just the way it’s phrased in the history books—
no more than 20 dead children.

How many is too many?
20 in Bethlehem or
20 in New Port, or
1 in Centennial.

What is left?
Grieving families,
20 families
or one family—
it doesn’t matter, does it?
We all grieve,
every time it happens,
we all grieve.

And we are called—
called by the holy family,
alone and afraid.

We are called to remember the needs of others,
those in far away places,
those in and around our community as well.
We are called by the holy family.

We are called to love and care for the children and young people and families we encounter every day—
in our homes,
in our congregation and neighborhoods.
Our love begins at home,
in our families,
where we care for one another with the love of the Christ Child.

One, single trusted caring adult, I promise,
one single trusted caring adult,
a mom or dad, aunt, uncle, grandparent, neighbor, teacher, physician, pastor, friend,
in a child’s life,
a family’s life,
can make a world of difference,
a difference between life and death.
The holy family calls us to be that adult for the children and families around us.

And sometimes we answer the call.
And sometimes we do not.

That is why the child came!
The child came to bring us the unconditional love of God.
The child came to forgive us even when we fail to answer the call of the holy family.

We give thanks to God,
for sending the child to Mary and Joseph,
to us,
even in the dark night,
in the midst of violence,
in the rain,
on the bridge,
in our schools, our homes, our churches.
Even as children and families fear and flee for their very lives . . .
the child comes!

We give thanks to God ,
for sending the child
to bring love and hope, light in the darkness, a shelter in the storm,
a refuge,
a light into our lives, into our world.