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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Singing Things Together

     A group of my friends caroled during the lighting of Main Street last Christmas, catching the attention of a little boy who was about four years old.  His Father crouched down behind him, holding his arms. Occasionally this Dad would point over his child’s shoulder, explaining some feature of our carols which the boy clearly had never experienced before. 
     I didn’t hear all of what the Dad said.  It was something about Jesus being born—something about why we were singing— and how this nearly extinct Holiday practice of singing in harmony was once more common. Judging by what little I could overhear, the Dad was sharing a family memory, too.    
      God was helping unite this dad to his son, and the son to previous generations of his father’s memory.  I know that this father reconnected me to my own childhood, too. My Dad would similarly crouch behind me. He had the habit of tightly inhaling a short breath as he turned a page of my story book, or saw something interesting, coaching a sense of wonder at life’s mysteries. 
      Though the child had no idea what was happening in me or in his Dad, through the singing of traditional songs God connected this young boy to a thousand years of history.  Harmonies joined families, generations, and the community together in ways that only Divine Mystery can fully comprehend.

     It would be great if all of us resolved to be in public spaces more.  Community gatherings and spaces where we all can come and unite with one another are important.   My bet is that our differences will not keep us from being mysteriously connected more deeply.  I believe that because Christ is mysteriously active joining all things in heaven and earth together in love.  (Ephesians 1: 10)

Christmas Infanticide

      I like to listen to Burl Ives, to play with the kids in front of the fire, and to sip coffee.  Yet, nothing ruins my "Christmas spirit" like reading the Bible.
      Upon hearing of the true King’s birth in Bethlehem, King Herod tries to kill Jesus by killing all the local boys Jesus’ age.   Matthew quotes Jeremiah: "A voice is heard--Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more…” Jeremiah continues, “This is what the LORD says: "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tearsfor your children will return to their own land."
     Follow Matthew’s extraordinary use of Jeremiah:   first, the mourning Mothers of Bethlehem  are said to be like their ancestor, Rachel.  She, too, wept for her kidnapped sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Yet, in Genesis these boys are restored to the ancestral family.  In Jeremiah’s day, as the mothers of Israel watched their children being kidnapped, Jeremiah tells them not to cry because God will see to it that they someday will come home.  
      Matthew’s Christmas is about God entering a world of mass infanticide.  Matthew depends on the Mothers of Bethlehem knowing that Rachel’s suffering came to an end. Mathew’s Christmas story is one of a vulnerable God entering a world of suffering as a sign that death will not finally prevail. As Joseph and Benjamin were spared, as the youngest generations from the exile returned, now even murdered children will return home for Christmas! 

       I write this while warmed by a fireplace, smiling at a healthy child.  But the gospels call me out of comfort into a grieving world.  Somewhere there is a grieving mother named Rachel, who needs the real Christmas Spirit.  For her, a Christmas that is only about family togetherness is cruel.  She needs to cling to the belief that in her eyes God, himself, cries oceans of tears.  She needs a grace that wipes her eyes with the steely assurance that her suffering will end in resurrection.   She needs people to act like Jesus and enter her world of suffering as a death-defying sign.  For her, a flimsy, "holly-jolly Christmas" won’t cut it.