On Christmas Day an old hotel burned to the ground in Minneapolis, MN. It was a building with a lengthy history and it was the residence of those on shelter waiting lists. The hotel had not been well-maintained and wasn’t a particularly safe place to live. Yet, it was what was available to those who would have been homeless otherwise. Then the fire. Two-hundred and forty people spent Christmas day on city buses, one hundred of which were children. (By the end of the day, temporary shelter had been found for all of them.)
I am sure this is not a unique story. I am sure other disasters struck other places where the displaced live. It’s all too frequent an occurrence for those who already have so little. They are placed in situations where many of us would not go for any reason. Substandard housing with roaches, rats, faulty electricity, and inadequate heat. Maybe these hotels and shelters are better than what people trying to enter this country on our southern border experience. Maybe these harsh surroundings are better than refugee camps or ICE detention centers offer.
To my knowledge no one died in the fire on Christmas Day. That’s a miracle in itself. And because it was Christmas, the outpouring of people bringing needed items – diapers, mittens, blankets, and more – was something to see. Yet, knowing there were children on buses with no homes and their meager Christmas burned away in a fire, made it hard for me to go back to my warm house with its full refrigerator and empty guest rooms.
We make a lot of our preparations for Christmas in both secular and spiritual ways. Many are moved to acts of generosity during the holiday season. However, we tend to participate in the packing up of Christmas on December 26th as if the story ends with a babe in a manger. We did our part, we bought gifts and we made the spiritual journey to Bethlehem (or not). Now we put it all away and ask what’s next.
The story doesn’t end at the manger, though. The innkeeper’s statement of “no room” echoed around Bethlehem and down through the centuries. Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of two. Whether it happened or not matters less than the fact that Herod wanted it done so he could protect his position of power and wealth by ensuring that no king would rise up from the people and challenge his ways of keeping everyone under control. As a result, scripture tells us that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt for a time. What would have happened if the Holy Family was met with the kind of fear and hatred that happens at many of our borders today? Why do we keep insisting that there is no room for Love?
None of us particularly like the story we call “the slaughter of the innocents.” Many preachers will choose other passages or other activities for this Sunday in Christmastide. We don’t want to think about all the ways in which we continue to slaughter innocence. Why else would it be okay to have homeless families living in substandard conditions? Why else would it be okay to separate children from their families at the border? Why else would it be okay to have an entirely inadequate foster care system? Why else would it be okay to have hungry children anywhere in the world? At least Herod was honest with himself and his people. He was a man who loved power and wealth; he didn’t care about the poor people around him. If they were not serving him, they could be sacrificed.
This is the world Jesus was born into. This is the world we live in. Jesus sought to change humanity’s willingness to slaughter innocence when those in power demanded it. Today, I can’t help but ask where the Body of Christ is now. Friends, we need to work harder to bring Divine Love into the world. Herod may not have succeeded in killing all those children in ancient Israel. Yet, we are still killing them. We sacrifice them daily to those who rule through fear, hatred, violence, and oppression.
Jesus came to show us another way. May we seek the way of Love in 2020. May we put an end to the slaughter of innocents and innocence that continues to this day. May we find a way to see God in every human face and respond to all with the loving-kindness Jesus so clearly demonstrated.
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RCL – Year A – First Sunday after Christmas – December 29, 2019