Posted by: smstrouse | December 29, 2018

It’s Not a War on Christmas; It’s a War on Children

1579px-'Flight_into_Egypt'_by_Henry_Ossawa_Tanner,_Cincinnati_Art_MuseumYesterday was the day known in the Church as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It’s not a day I’ve often observed, talked about, or preached on. The scripture text it’s based on is part of the gospel of Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus. It comes right after one of my favorite parts – the arrival of the Magi bearing wondrous gifts. But here’s the flip side of that happy story. When the Magi leave – and don’t go back to Herod to report on the whereabouts of this possible threat to his power – the king goes into a rage. He orders the death of all male children age two and under in and around the town of Bethlehem. But Jospeh learns of the murderous plan in a dream and is wise enough to pay attention. That night, the family flees to Egypt and remains there until the death of Herod. 

The thing is: I already struggle with the Christmas story. I’ve come a long way from complete rejection because of its non-historical basis. I moved through the stages of learning about the reasons Matthew and Luke created their accounts they way they did. They had their reasons for portraying the miraculous birth of Jesus in order to legitimize “their guy” as the real deal. I came to a place of appreciation for the story as a myth, that is a story that, while not historical fact, still contains a great truth. As Marcus Borg like to paraphrase Black Elk’s Indigenous wisdom: “I am not sure that it happened this way or not but I know that this story is true.” 

So I made peace with Christmas. See my post An Elephant, a Giraffe and a Zebra Walk into a Stable.

However, I’m still bothered by the attention that’s often given to details in the story – like how Mary really could have been a virgin and what that star over Bethlehem could have been. And the so-called flight into Egypt Matthew, wanting to show that Jesus is the new Moses and goes to great lengths to connect the Jesus story with prophecies from the Hebrew scriptures, writes: “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by God through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my Own.’

It’s so blatant that I’ve pretty much dismissed it, ignoring my own advice to find the truth in the story. But the point is that the birth of Jesus would have both religious and political implications. The news of Light coming into the world was no more good news for the rich and powerful in Jesus’ day than it is in ours. In fact, as the Magi discovered, the rich and powerful actually have a vested interest in destroying that Light. As one commentator wrote: “While politicians promise to shake things up and drain the so-called swamp, their words reveal more heat than light. The rich and powerful want to remain rich and powerful even if it means holding onto the status quo of widespread poverty, destruction of species and the eco-sphere, and the growing disparity of the rich and poor.”

48394637_113245603057785_1505732825792380928_oThe  crisis at our border is a grim illustration of what the Magi knew. Their odyssey does not have to be historical fact for it to be true. Herod lives. And even the youngest among us have reason to be afraid. Eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal are among the innocents who have died at the hands of cruel Herod. 

In today’s version of the story, we need to pay attention to the overarching message of Christmas: the Light has come into the world and no darkness can overcome it. The Christmas story doesn’t stop with a sweet scene in a stable on a silent night. It zooms the birth of Jesus out into the political realm with a realism that we recognize all too well. I remember when I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why Jesus was called Prince of Peace. If he came to bring peace on earth, something had obviously gone wrong. But then I came to understand that the birth of Jesus wasn’t about there being a new Herod in town. The politics of Jesus aren’t the politics of the world. And the politics of Jesus will always be confrontational to the halls of wealth and power. We will always have to stand in opposition to the powers-that-be.

It’s no wonder that being a Christian for the first three centuries was so dangerous. Even the Christmas story itself, so beloved for its promise of “peace on earth,” was essentially a story of political resistance, proclaiming a radically different kind of Savior and a vision of peace on earth based not on power over others, but upon compassion and justice for all people – especially the most vulnerable among us.

The Slaughter of the Innocents reminds us to pay attention to the children – to Felipe and Jakelin and all the little ones in danger from illness, dehydration, and untold emotional distress. To all the children separated from their families, kept in cages or in centers far from home, to those waiting at the border, not knowing if they will receive sanctuary or not. To the ones suffering at border crossings everywhere.

They are the Holy Innocents. 

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