Friday, December 28, 2012

December 28: Holy Innocents, Martyrs. A Necessary Stumbling Block?

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. It is a most difficult feast to understand, let alone celebrate.  Especially in light of the recent mass murder of six and seven years old children in a Connecticut school and the continued drone attacks on civilians I find it difficult to think of the massacre of infants as a Feast Day.

Madeleine L'Engle writes in The Irrational Season:

"Holy Innocents' Day is a stumbling block for me.  This is a festival? this remembering the slaughter of all those babies under two years of age whose only wrong was to have been born at a time when the three Wise Men came out of the East to worship a great King; and Herod, in panic lest his earthly power be taken away from him by this unknown infant potentate, ordered the execution of all the children who might brow up to dethrone him. "

We celebrate calculated human acts of violence upon the most innocent of all? Tragic events happen everyday.  A man being pushed in front of a subway car, a mother and her children losing their home and are tossed out into the cold, a child is raped by someone she  trusts, environmental destruction is accepted because it is profitable for the shareholders, are all examples of this cruel world. Do we celebrate these?  If we confronted these tragedies head on, we should begin to question our trust in a benevolent God.

It makes no sense!

But then  neither does  the incarnation, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth make sense.  What does not make sense is the faith of oppressed people in all ages and lands who affirm their belief in  a better tomorrow by surviving and thriving to overcome the forces of evil.  What does not make sense are my  ancestors' affirmation and trust in a loving, caring, and omnipotent God while their children were being snatched from them and  their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, beaten in front of them?  What made them  continue to sing the songs of freedom?

Perhaps the proper response is compassionate presence.  Refuse to offer an explanation.  Can we?  Instead perform acts of mercy: dry the tear of a heart broken mother; hug the grieving father, change the diaper of an orphaned baby.

Their will be time to question our faith.  And we should.  There will be a time to act for justice.  And we will.  But now it is the season to sit, remember, reflect, and be present.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect. Feast of Holy Innocents. Book of Common Prayer. 1979).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Love, The Stairway to Heaven": Reflections on the Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr.

In recent days I have been thinking about when we perceive God is absent. The slaughter of children in Connecticut, the mall shootings in Portland, the murder of volunteer fire fighters in New York, the ongoing drones attack in Pakistan, the neglect and rejection of the poor by our political leaders seem to point to a world without God.

Yet  Christians affirm that God is not absent. We confess that God became human and endures human hardship, pain, and death. As at the first Christmas, God's presence may not be recognized easily. Perhaps we look in the wrong places for God. God is where we do not expect the divine. The Apostle John reflects on God's incarnation and states God came to God's own people, but they did not recognize God. "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (John.1:10-11. RSV).

Today we remember St. Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr. In the midst of Christmas we are confronted with the horrors of humanity. This week, in addition to remembering St. Stephen's death at the hands of a lynch mob, we recall the slaughter of children by a vicious, power hungry ruler (December 28: Holy Innocents). What little we know about Stephen we read in the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters 6 and 7). St. Stephen shows us that although we are surrounded by powerful forces of hatred and destruction, we are called to live, even in the midst of death, by ministering to the needs of ordinary people, speaking truth to power,and forgiving instead of seeking revenge.

In his sermon entitled "Armor of Love", St. Fulgentius of Ruspe proclaims that  for St. Stephen,

 "Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition...
Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defence,- and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey's end.
My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together."
The love ethic of Jesus and embraced by St. Stephen, does not  answer to everyone's satisfaction the universal and persistent questions about evil. Yet  we know that a child born in an obscure village to a poor young couple has changed how many people confront evil.  We may not have lasting and  satisfactory answers to that which we experience as evil, but the Christian can assert the mystery of the Incarnation means in part that God is with us (Emmanuel) and calls us to love.

"We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen" (Book of Common Prayer. 1979).

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Great Advent - O Emmanuel. Antiphon for December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of nations and their Savior: Come, and save us, O Lord our God

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Great Advent - O Rex Gentium. Antiphon for December 22

O King of the Gentiles, and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one.  Come and save poor humanity, whom you fashioned out of clay.