December 30, 2001
All the media are big into reflections on the past year. There is list after list of rankings of events and famous people who have died during 2001.
If we were living a little more than 2000 years ago I wonder where the lists of that day would put the murder of all the children of Bethlehem under the age of two.
I expect we could project that it would be the number one event in Bethlehem, but where would it rank on the list for the king in Jerusalem who was responsible for the murders? Where would it fit in to the official reflection on the year?
After all it was a politically savvy act. If you want to remain king the best way is to get rid of your rivals. After all you do have to break a few eggs to get an omelet. All-in-all, it sort of pales in light of this same King Herod who killed brothers and his own children to keep his position safe. Surely the murder of princes would be a bigger story than that of a few unknown babies in Bethlehem.
I expect the murder of all the babies under the age of two in the Bethlehem area didn't make the news in its day, and not just because the media was controlled by the king. I expect it didn't make the news because of the way in which we all define news in terms of what affects us, not what affects the world we live in.
The death of those unknown children affected their immediate families, but at best got an, "Oh, that's too bad." reaction from others.
While most of the world was affected by the great story of Christmas, most folks stopped paying attention to Bethlehem right after the after-Christmas sales and what benefit they could derive from those sales.
Likewise in our day, the war and devastated economy in Bethlehem is at best on the back-burner of our minds if it is anywhere to be found at all.
Likewise in our day, the death of more than 5,000 innocent Afghans is at best on the back-burner of our minds if it is anywhere to be found at all.
We don't join in with the Christmas tears in Bethlehem or Afghanistan. We have enough troubles of our own. There will be after-Christmas bills to pay -- so we will cry over the consequences of our own overspending before we will cry over the consequences of our being silent when one nations murders those in another nation.
We have enough troubles of our own. Cable prices are going up, the latest gas price hike, St. Luke's looking for new members who will bring in more demands on us and lower our per capita giving, and the recent health issue for our sister or uncle or parent or child, and a huge lack of time to get done what needs to get done much less what we want to get done.
In the face of any or all of this, there is no time or energy to have Christmas tears for any of Rachel's children of two-thousand years ago or right now.
At best we enter the Gospel lesson of the day with a prayer that we will be warned in a dream so we can keep ourselves safe.
Of course we can justify this desire for self-preservation. After all how will we be able to help anyone if we aren't here to help. This is the first self-justification we make and there is enough truth in it to make it easy for us to use.
"The greatest good for the greatest number", we say. And if we are going to give the greatest good we have to be around for the longest time. We do tend to quantify life.
With Jesus safe, the one we call the greatest, it seems we have lost interest in the safety of the disposable people. Mary's child, Jesus, made it safely away, too bad about Rachel's children.
I've even seen some people try to put a good spin on the massacre of innocents in Bethlehem. They suggest that blood-thirsty Herod calmed down after having the baby's killed for killing had always solved his problems before and he would have stopped searching for Jesus or sending spies after Joseph and Mary in Egypt to have them killed there.
So, they suggest, the death of those baby's served a purpose in God's plan.
I suggest this approach is foolish. If we are followers of GOD's love we can't avoid participating in either the Christmas joy of angels and shepherds and magi or the Christmas tears of refugees and marginalized people and dead babies.
We do need to celebrate the gift of new life and new hope. We do need to mourn the pain of lost life and dashed hope.
Eventually, we know, that Jesus' life was taken by another king. Eventually, we know, that Jesus put himself in harm's way for the sake of the poor, the outcast, the lame, the halt, the blind, and even the dead. Eventually, we know, that it is this voluntary offering of himself that we lift up as Jesus' legacy of new life and new hope.
Eventually, we know, that we too will have to follow that same path if we are to find our own life and our own hope. We, too, will have to put ourselves in harm's way. We, too, will have to weep with Rachel, and feel the current devastation in Bethlehem and Afghanistan, and have to do something more than avoid the numbers of hungry people and homeless people right here in La Crosse.
Eventually, we know, we will be called upon to use our time and our energy and our resources and our relationships to be in service to GOD's love.
Let us pray:
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.