They Were Three of Thousands
As genocides go, this wasn't much of one. In and around Bethlehem when Jesus was a toddler – twenty people probably; thirty at most. All of them little brown-skinned boys.
About sixty kids a year die of child abuse, just in Indiana. Well over a hundred in California. Around 3000 total, more or less. Nineteen kids are gunshot every day in the US; three of them die. That's 1100 more. Ironically, almost the same number of kids who died of war injuries in Syria in 2017. Globally, 3.1 million kids under age 5 starve to death, a number way down from 25 years ago. 85,000 kids dead in Yemen since the American-backed bombing began in 2015. 9.6 million more children are in near- constant danger there.
So maybe we can admit to ourselves and one another that our shock and grief at this god-awful story here in Matthew, chapter 2, is slightly put-on – amen? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are but three of thousands – millions, really. Millions and millions of parents and children, terrorized and running for their very lives in the world right now.
Let's pray: How to live, O God? How to live these privileged lives of ours, and faithfully call ourselves faithful? You are our heart’s desire, and we are so easily overwhelmed by the suffering of this world. We pray to read the word with honest minds and brave hearts, to listen for THE word it might give us for our lives here and now – our time, our talent, our treasure, O God. Ease our grip on them; ease our want of them for ourselves, that others may be less afraid, that other children have a safe and happy life. Amen.
Let's quickly go over the characters:
Herod has heard that foreigners have come to worship a newborn king within his borders. Using his own advisors to locate the birthplace, he orders a raid. By the time his butchers arrive, the foreigners are gone by another road, and Joseph has been warned in a dream to get out. He picks up his family and gets them to Egypt. And while it may have been for only twenty little boys, Matthew says the wailing from Bethlehem sounded like Rachel wailing in Ramah for all her children who would never ever be. Because, of course, there is no such thing as a little genocide. The death of any child is the death of an entire history of people who will never, ever be.
I've another text for you this morning, written last week by my friend Christie Popp. She is an immigration lawyer and faithful member of Beth Shalom next door. She spoke here last year about the current immigration crisis. She wrote this last week while in Tijuana, volunteering with refugees stalled there. What is happening in Tijuana:
She goes on to share ways to give money and volunteer.
Friends, it's no more fun to read this than it is to hear it. But it matters. It matters hugely to read the scripture in the context of the world we live in. Guatemala, Columbia and Honduras are ALL more than 2000 miles from Tijuana. Russia is 5000. The Congo is 9000. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary had it easy compared to them. It's only 430 miles from Bethlehem to Egypt, the same as from here to Memphis. Google maps says it would take five days and ten hours to walk from Bloomington to Memphis and require one ferry ride.
But what difference does it make to compare? Ours is to figure what the text has to do with faith for us here and now, with any of us who claim faith in Jesus in this time and place. The text makes plain that in choosing incarnation as the vehicle of salvation, Jesus chose incarnation NOT among the privileged and protected, but among the lowly and the terrorized.
To ignore the suffering and injustice of the people Jesus most embodied – well, that's heresy, isn't it? At best it's idolatry. Flexing a self-indulgent faith to worship a made up god who asks nothing we do not want to give. Again, again, again, Friends, grace is free for everyone. Once. And. For. All. But stepping up to discipleship, we are no longer the ALL. We count ourselves as his. His followers. His servants. His disciples. His church. He is Friend-Teacher-Father-Lord of us. And our Friend-Teacher-Father-Lord has not kept secret what he wants from us.
He wants everything. Remember the rich young ruler? He wants everything. And we've re-written that story so that the young man keeps his fortune and follows Jesus after all. The church loves the Magi – Epiphany we call it – when the gospel is given to the Gentiles. But when we linger there too long it becomes easy-peasy to miss Baby Jesus doing what grown-up Jesus always does: situate the gospel in and among the least, the last, and the littlest; the frail, the forgotten, and the fearful; the terrorized, the tyrannized, the traumatized; the confounded, the coerced, the conquered; the bullied, the beaten, the broke, the babies; the harassed and the hounded and the hated; the ones who are so, so, so easy for people like us to never lose a wink of sleep about.
The fortune tellers left their gifts and escaped Herod by another road, Matthew says. In doing so, they did what? They financed Joseph's flight to Egypt, the undocumented years there. Friends, if we are the gentiles gathered around Baby Jesus' playpen, then I believe that, by default and by design, we are also his ally with every refugee father bribing his way across some border now; with every endangered, starving child. Not because we agree with the politics involved, but because that's where Jesus chose to be, and he called us to follow him.
We cannot do for them what Jesus did. But neither can anyone else do what Jesus has called you and me to do. No one but you governs the time, talent, and treasure in your care. Nor me and mine. God help us if we sit too easily with it, unchanged by the truth we know. God break us into people more generous and glad to serve this world than we've ever been before. Would you pray with me?