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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings- Innocents Edition

Lectionary for Sunday, December 30, 2007:
Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148:1-14
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

I’d always known the story of the massacre of the innocents, but I don’t think I had ever given it much thought, until. Until I was in Italy some18 years ago and saw painting after painting depicting the horror.

And so here it is, in the lectionary, right where it should be, after the birth of Jesus.

I am struck by just how much Jesus’ people sacrificed, without their consent, for him. For this messiah who did not turn out to be the one they expected.

It’s easy to choose another passage for this week, but in my congregation that’s the text we’ll be hearing. And I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, there is enough horror in our world. On the other hand, this is the cycle of the church year, and if we edit out the unpleasant parts, what does that say about us?

What will you be preaching this Sunday?

Who Says , by Julia Hartwig
Translated from the Polish

While the innocents were being massacred who says
that flowers didn’t bloom, that the air didn’t breather bewildering scents
that birds didn’t rise to the heights of their most accomplished songs
that young lovers didn’t twine in love’s embraces

But would it have been fitting if a scribe of the time had shown this
and not the monstrous uproar on a street drenched with blood
the wild screams of mothers with infants torn from their arms
the scuffling, the senseless laughter of soldiers
aroused by the touch of women’s bodies and young breast warm with milk

Flaming torches tumbled down stone steps
there seemed no hope of rescue
and violent horror soon gave way to the still more awful numbness of despair

At that moment covered by the southern night’s light shadow
a bearded man leaning on a staff and a girl with a child in her arms
were fleeing lands ruled by the cruel tyrant
carrying the world’s hope to a safer place
beneath silent stars in which these events had been recorded centuries ago


  1. What great thoughts to prime the pump!
    I'm developing the thoughts about the Incarnation, and particularly verse 2 of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, that I used on Christmas Eve and adding to them some ideas about the Isaiah and Matthew texts--that it is God's presence that saves, and that God willingly came into a world so broken that people were willing to kill the innocent to achieve their purposes. I also have some ideas about the post-exilic community and its relationship to the Gulf Coast 2+ years after Hurricane Katrina. Both communities are rebuilding without familiar landmarks, and both contain people who stayed the whole time and those who went away and came back. It's the presence of God that makes the life of the community possible, against all odds and despite all potential for resentment or disconnection or unfamiliarity.

  2. I am going with THe Shadow of Christmas using teh innocent slaughter and teh prophecy in Luke "a sword will pierce your soul".

    BUt how I am doing that? Not sure. ANd not really planning on doing much until I return home on Thursday.

  3. From my daily office reflections

    The health of the nations
    reflects in the lives of its children
    Herod lives
    when one child dies of hunger.

  4. I was planning to use Isaiah 63 to talk about incarnation: "it was no angel or messenger but his very presence that saved them." I took some pages from Ideas! magazine on the incarnation.

    Then a retired pastor offered to preach for me this week so I can take a Sunday off for a change, and I jumped at the opportunity. He's doing Matthew and something about God's presence in the midst of pain.

    Blessings on all your thinking and praying this week! I shall be doing my best to actually take a week off...for real this time (no email or anything). I may need your help on that, friends! :-)

  5. yes, great thoughts for the sunday after christmas! rude awakening to get this right after christmas. but there it is. and I like what songbird said about vs 2 of hark the herld angels...

    hmmm...god's presence in the midst of pain. good sermon title.

  6. I'm preaching Matt this year. I posted a personal story about Bethlehem with a few reflections on my blog

  7. slaughtering of the innocent - was in fact a kind of prophetic act of Jesus' death to come, and how appropriate really that the birth and the slaughter come so close together in our lectionary readings and in our minds.

    As one worship song says

    He was born - to die.

    Easy to want to ignore or forget that -amongst all the tinsel wrappings of Christmas!

    bless all who preach this Sunday (or the days in between - many are having services today too I think)

  8. lovely that you get a Sunday off Teri. Sit back and ENJOY :) bless all retired pastors everywhere, who remember the need and offer help and assistance :)

    My friend was similarly so blessed when a retired pastor offered to take the 8am service yesterday :)

  9. I'm going the Hebrews 2 route this Sunday, and using a quote that I came across from Paul Tillich: "The darkness that Jesus the light is most clearly piercing is death." That's paraphrased, but I'm using that general idea to talk about light and darkness, Jesus' birth and death, and probably something about the new year as well.

    And I'm actually foregoing the reading about the innocents completely. If a text like that gets read, I should probably say something about it, but since I'm not we'll hear about the Magi instead.

  10. Thanks everyone- As always, I am impressed with the prayerful thought...

  11. i'm not preaching this week, but wanted to say thanks for the poem you posted. breathtaking, definately will sit and simmer with it for the week. thank you!

  12. The poem is beautiful. I'm recycling a sermon from my former church. We have a session retreat this weekend and I just don't have the energy to write a sermon and try to pull together a retreat. I'm planning reflections on experiences of God for Friday evening (that's the extent of my plans so far) and planning on Saturday. One session member said not to mix the spiritual and the business! But we will have to because planning is discerning God's will for us and we have to be spiritual in doing that!

  13. I am not a retired pastor, but I am a teacher, and one of the preaching team at my own church, and I would gladly sub for any of you if you needed a week off - no charge! Not tooting my own horn, just offering my help. I am in southeastern NH -

    I can even send you an audition mp3...

  14. I am not preaching but will be saying a prayer for those who do.

  15. I'm preaching, and really wrestling with picking the text:

    A few books I was reading about teenagers (yep, I'm the youth person at my church) made me think of the slaughter of the innocents. The way we expect so much of teens, but are just too busy to support them, and the way we cater to them, but don't help them grow up, the way we profit, through the media, off f them by promoting ideas and ideals that we then tell them to feels like we sometimes allow our children to be slaughtered...

    But I'm uncomfortable with that on so many levels: (1) There are kids in the world who we do literally allow to be slaughtered (2) My suburban teens don't have it so bad in the grand scheme of things (3) lately, the affluence in area is just making me so angry...

    So, I don't know if I can pull this sermon off right now. I don't think I'm in a good place emotionally to put it together.

    I'm thinking maybe something about the incarnation...because our head-pastor's Christmas emphasis the past week has been more of the cute-baby-Christmas variety. Or, something of a New Year's Eve thing since we won't have a service then. Plus, we've got a last-minute baptism on Sunday now, too.

    So, I'll be praying for us all!

  16. While I'm not preaching this week, I'm soliciting prayers, as it is my ordination and installation service. I have the honor of having my father preach at the service and I'll have family traveling from all over, so prayers for them as well, and for the church with whom I'll be sharing my ministry.

  17. In their book "The First Christmas" Marcus Borg and Dom Crossan talk about the parallels between Jesus' infancy narrative in Matthew and the Exodus and midrash narratives of Moses' birth. There might be something there. Go to Amazon and check out page 145 of the book for more info.

  18. It seems to be in Spanish the headlines in the prayer blog and this comment area.
    This newer computer is weird. The writing is very large.

    It seems the Light has arrived and evil is showing up in different ways. Out of fear the Empire of that day took the lives of children...power rules in fear. They 'heard' of a baby to come and that it had arrived. Fear of loss of what they have did this..still does this.

    For...there are parallels today. Genocide continues in our 'not making governments hear and see' what they are allowing will travel.

    How long will it be before the people of the third worlds rise up against those they 'hear' and believe are behind their pain?

    911 was one time this happened. We have continued the revenge in various ways.

    How many people know that there are Corporations that cause death to grow food? Bananas crops are sprayed while pickers are still in the fields, they die from burns and breathing the poisons...they are shot if they try to leave the fields. All for us to buy cheap bananas.

    Watch for Fair Trade products they pay fair wages.
    One way to combat Empires we live under.

    Jesus taught people that they deserved fairness as all are God's children. He likely heard later of the killings of babies up to two years old...I can only imagine how he felt. But he went on living love and that cost him. How willing are we to take the costs of Loving ourselves? That is the only way we can love others.

    This is a hard passage for all of us to comprehend...but when we know what is going on now, we can certainly see how it happens. We also play a role in it...that becomes our own challenge and the Church's challenge.

  19. More on Herod and the plight of children today here


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