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Now after that, 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…” Matthew 2:13

Thus begins one of the hardest texts in our Gospels, yet one we rarely hear, for this section of Matthew tends to fall on the Sunday after Christmas, when most of us are on vacation. Titled in many bibles “The Massacre of the Innocents,” it tells of how Herod, upon learning that he had been tricked by the Magi (who went home by another way, instead of reporting back as ordered) had all the children in and around Bethlehem, who were under two years old, systematically killed. He was, of course, trying to destroy the child whom the Magi had named as a King – the infant born to Mary and Joseph.

Jesus and his family escaped. Most did not.

At this time of the year, we celebrate the coming of God into our world. We celebrate the incarnation: God made flesh, God with us. It is vital that we not overlook this detail as we re-tell the story; that we not lose ourselves in the cuteness of a baby surrounded by lambs and angels. God came into this world in the same messy way that all of us did: as vulnerable and dependent as any human baby. It is vital that we remember God’s choice to become fully human out of love for us, for here God reminds us that our humanity matters. Our bodies matter.

Nor was it only the body of one infant, born in a stable in Bethlehem, that was of consequence to God. As much as the original incarnation, the continuing presence of God made flesh matters. The Body of Christ – interwoven, interdependent humanity – matters. The Body of Creation – vulnerable and needy – matters to the God whose love incorporates the entire world.

But if the incarnation matters – if it matters that God took on human flesh and lived as one of us – then we must read this Gospel passage as more than a horrific story.

For a powerful ruler, fearful of a challenge to his authority, sent soldiers to kill the people of his own realm. The powerful ruler sent the army, not into battle against other troops, trained and ready for battle, but to kill those who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some were able to escape, under cover of darkness, praying that the baby wouldn’t cry, that no one would see them, that somewhere, someone would welcome them: strangers in a strange land. Praying for Emmanuel: God with us, even as refugees.

The story that horrifies us in the Bible is unfolding in our daily papers, on the nightly news. People, who look much like Joseph and Mary, are fleeing state-sponsored violence, carrying their children and a few, necessary possessions. Children who look much as Jesus would have – brown-skinned children with wavy hair and big brown eyes – are watching as unspeakable horrors play out before their eyes.

Once again, Emmanuel – God with us – is fleeing before the specter of violence. Once again, people are dying because those in authority care more for their power than for human lives. Once again, the incarnate God is a refugee, seeking shelter from the cruelty that fearful humanity so often inflicts.

Once again, we are reading the story of the Massacre of Innocents. But now, we do not have the luxury of assuming that we would stand up to Herod’s violence. Now, we do not have the luxury of assuring ourselves that we would welcome this Nazarene carpenter, with his wife and son.

Now the Christ Child awaits a cease-fire, and a bus out of Aleppo. Now, Joseph barters passage on a leaky boat, in the hopes of reaching Lesbos. Now, Mary rocks her child to sleep in a sprawling refugee camp that has become Jordan’s third-largest city, and wonders how long she can survive in a tent. Now Emmanuel – God with us – wonders where to find shelter, welcome, love.

Friends, in this Christmas season, let us remember that it matters that God took on our humanity, our vulnerability, and came to live as one of us. And let us follow in the way of God, recognizing without fear our own vulnerability and interdependence. Let us live as thought the incarnation really mattered to us, right now, in 2017. Let us put ourselves into the story, let God-with-us know that we are also with God, wherever God is made flesh in this world.

For ways to help, please check out

http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/

https://www.whitehelmets.org/en

 

 

Glory to God in the highest!
Unto us is born this day
a Savior: helpless
vulnerable
entirely dependent
upon our compassion
our willingness to give room
to the presence of God
on earth.

Unto us is born this day
a baby
who bears the image of God
who contains the blessing of God
wrapped up, swaddled,
snuggled into the softest bed
available.

And angels sing, if we have ears to hear
the eternal song of counting
fingers and toes,
the coos and whispers beyond language
to soothe a screaming newborn,
the universal lullaby
of welcome
where we set aside,
for a moment,
the harshness of the world.

If we have ears to hear
what the earth-bound angels
announce,
then, God of mercy,
may we open our doors
to desperate strangers,
even if they’re from Nazareth
that backwater town
from which nothing good
could possibly come;
because we might be giving room
to God-made-flesh.

If we have ears to hear
the joyous, raucous,
exclamations of shepherds –
dizzy with the new-baby-smell
that clings, still, to their hands
despite the dirt –
if we have ears to hear,
beyond the impulse to dismiss
these evangelists who disturb our night
proclaiming the impossible
that God is here!
Right here: even here!
then, God of all,
may our eyes be opened
to the presence
of light in shadow
of eternal in temporal
of the Body of Christ
still walking this earth.

Creator God, source of life,
may we have ears to hear
the song of angels
in the voices of all
who call us to care for one another
as though we were caring for you;
who invite us to see
You
in unexpected human flesh,
who remind us that there is no
“us” and “them”
just your love incarnate
in a diversity of bodies.

Abiding God, resting,
trusting,
in our frail human protection,
may we have ears to hear
the proclamation of the shepherds
who guide your children
to see you
in Bethlehem feed-troughs,
nosed-at by sheep;
in hospital bassinets,
shaking with addiction;
in donated carriers,
outside closed borders:
in swaddling clothes,
God-with-us now as then,
on earth as in heaven.

God of Grace, upending power,
in whom vulnerability overcomes fear
and love triumphs over death
may we have ears to hear;
If our minds and bodies can be
still
for long enough
to hear the ordinary,
extraordinary,
blessings of incarnation.
Then,
may we run, like shepherds
like sheep
to hold the child
so that Mary can get some rest
knowing her baby is in good hands.

Glory to God in the highest!
For unto us is born this day
a Savior.
One who will
heal the sick
house the homeless
nourish the hungry
release the prisoner
teach our children
care for our parents.

Glory to God in the highest!
For unto us is born this day
a Savior, a babe like any other:
God’s anointed,
God incarnate,
Love-made-flesh
given into our care.
Tiny fingers curling around ours
holding tight
calling us anew
so that there might
finally
be peace on earth.