This was a week when Friday morning I had three pages of notes, an outline, and I could have preached without a lot of further prep. I had the day scheduled as a day off but planned to make a couple of hospital visits and finish my sermon at Starbucks. I turned on the television as I got ready and learned of the unfolding events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was transfixed, sat down and before I knew it hours had passed. Kay called in the afternoon and I was eventually able to eat, get out of the house, stop at the office for a bit and get to the hospital.
But those sermon notes were useless in the face of the events that unfolded and all I could think about was the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and those of that morning. That is why I read the Gospel from Matthew 2 this morning, because I couldn’t shake the images of violence against the innocent and the unlikely gift of myrrh given to Jesus by the very one who would tell his would be killer about him.
Gold Frankincense and Myrrh were what the Three Kings brought as gifts to Jesus. Shortly after these gifts were unwrapped, an angel of God appears to Joseph and the stage is set for the Holy Family to escape to Egypt, but also for a madman to kill innocent children. This text and the news are sad reminders that violent crime has been a part of the human experience throughout human history. From Cain killing Abel in Genesis, the blood of countless victims has cried out to God. Our hearts, those of our Connecticut neighbors and the nation too, cry out to our God who gives us life. We grieve this day for the victims and innocence lost for families, friends and communities like our own who feel hurt beyond words and sit in darkness.
Violence terrorizes and eats away at a civil society. Our bonds of trust, the foundation of safety and security that allow us to live routine, peaceable lives tear and fray, leaving our lives tattered—and instead of loving, we question our foundations and fear our neighbor. Sitting in tatters, saddened by violence, and angered by the injustice, we want justice. We want those who violate the sanctity of life, the perceptions of peace, and the safety of society to be held accountable. But in our sadness and anger, you and I are vulnerable to soul ripping feelings of revenge. In the midst of our utter frustration with the complexity that contributes to violence may make us long for simple solutions.
Of course there are no simple solutions to our grief, our cries for justice, or our longing for peace in our broken and fallen world. So we gather to pray, to hear God’s Word, to be fed and sustained by bread and wine. Today, this gathering at this time, in this place is an Emmanuel moment. God is with us. God is with us in what we do when we gather as Children of God to be reminded of God’s unfailing presence with us. This is the sure and certain promise of God’s unfailing love and willingness to accompany us in the midst of all goodness and evil.
God is with us. God is with the dying. God is with the grieving.
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God grieves. God grieves with each of us and all who experience broken hearts and grief too deep for words. The hymn “In Deepest Night” [ELW 699] Susan Palo Cherwien wrote in 1995 boldly sings this reassurance:
In deepest night, in darkest days, when harps are hung, no songs we raise,
when silence must suffice as praise, yet sounding in us quietly there is the song of God.
When friend was lost, when love deceived, dear Jesus wept, God was bereaved;
so with us in our grief God grieves, and round about us mournfully there are the tears of God.
When through the waters winds our path, around us pain, around us death:
deep calls to deep, a saving breath, and found beside us faithfully
there is the love of God.
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This is a time to be reminded of God’s love and grief. God became human to be completely connected to us. Our humanity that connects us to God and one another is tightened by tragedy that transcends all walls and barriers of geography, class, race and all that divides. God was, is and will be born into a violent world to live with us and to show that death and violence will never get the last word. I pray for a world that looks in the mirror and reflects on the sins of our inhumanity and on the joys of our humanity. I pray that we recognize that in both, God is with us, in darkened moments and light-filled days, in cries and laughter, and in tears of sorrow and joy.
To celebrate his birth, Jesus received Myrrh, which is used to prepare the dead for burial.
- That myrrh could have been given to use when our fallen inhumanity slaughtered the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem.
- That myrrh could have been given to use when our fallen inhumanity slaughtered our Lord and Savior Jesus, on the Cross.
- That myrrh could have been given to use when our fallen inhumanity continues to slaughter the innocent through senseless violent crimes that continue to this day.
It is important to sit with our grief in the promise and truth of Jesus’ resurrection and empty tomb, that violence and death which appears to get the last word does not. Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.
- We pray “Your Kingdom come” …where senseless violence and death are no more,
- We pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” …that all may know the light and love of God,
- We pray, “Deliver us from evil” …knowing that, in the end, God’s light and love dismisses the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Let us pray:
Holy God, we remember the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by order of King Herod, and the slaughter of holy innocents at the hands of sinners throughout all time. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims, comfort all who grieve, and by your great might, frustrate the designs of evil and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen