Thursday, December 28, 2017

On Rachel's Lament and Not Looking Away

Peter de Francia
The fourth day of Christmas is the Feast of Holy Innocents rooted in the story of Herod’s slaughter of baby boys of Bethlehem in an attempt to annihilate the infant Jesus as recounted in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. It is also a reminder that many little ones continue to suffer and die due to hunger, disease, neglect, abuse, and violence.

Fleming Rutledge is an Episcopalian priest famous for her preaching preacher and author. Her blog, GenerousOrthodoxy, is a fine resource. The following is taken from one of her sermons, Monsters at the Manger. In the sermon she refers to another sermon preached by a Roman Catholic priest, Father Lucic, at a church in Sarajevo during the siege and bombardment there in the 1990’s:

The priest’s final words were, “Jesus teaches us that human judgments are not the last judgments, that human justice is not the last justice, and that power that humans exercise over one another is not the final power”

How can we believe this? How can we go on singing “Joy to the world, the Savior reigns,” in view of the fact that the monsters continue to devour our children with undiminished ferocity?

The Christmas story is anchored to our lives and to the wickedness of this world by the grief of Rachel, “weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” The authors of Scripture did not turn away from the unimaginable suffering of children. God the Father did not turn away. Jesus did not turn away. We see in his death on the Cross and Resurrection from the dead the source of our conviction that “human judgments are not the final judgments, that human justice is not the final justice, and the power that humans exercise over one another is not the final power.” But we must keep Ivan Karamazov’s protest in our minds every day. The nativity story might as well be about reindeer and snowmen for sure, if it has nothing to say about the small victims. I believe that by putting Rachel’s lament at the heart of the Christmas story, Matthew has shown us how to hold onto faith and hope until the Second Coming. Only as we share in the prayers and the laments of bereaved families, not looking away, can we continue to believe that the savior reigns even now in the faith and tenacity of Father Lucic and all those who continue to stand for humanity in the face of barbarity. Only by attending to the horrors of this world can we continue tossing the words of that great eighteenth-century hymn-writer Isaac Watts;

He comes to make his blessings known
Far as the curse is found
(Hymn, “Joy to the World”)

For only a faith forged out of suffering can say with conviction that the angels and monsters will not coexist forever, that Muslims and agnostics and Christians and Jews will be drawn together in ways we cannot yet imagine, that the agonies of victims will some day be rectified, and that the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ will be the Last Word.

Here is a performance of a boys' choir illustrating the tragic reality that a child dies every three seconds around the world:

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