(including sections from Spill the Beans)
Shall we play hide and seek?
You go hide and I will find you.
And if I find you, I’ll cut off your head!
Does that horrify you? It should. This beautiful story of deeply spiritual, wise and patient people journeying across countries to greet a small child because of a message read in the stars – it is woven with this other, terrible story, of the Holy Family running for their lives, who knows how many other families torn apart, children ripped from mother’s arms, and a jealous, suspicious, fearful king appeased.
The child was saved—but at what cost? This child, who Scripture tells us gave his life to save millions yet to be born – this child, his life was spared while so many others weren’t.
There was much rejoicing in heaven at the saving of the Christ Child —but what about the lament? I am sure that the laments of the mothers and fathers and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins reached the God of compassion, and that there have been and still are tears in the heart of God for the deaths of those children. The Psalms reminds us that God holds the lives and the deaths of all of us as precious and sacred. Thousands of years later, their deaths are commemorated on the Day of the Holy Innocents – and they are honoured as the first martyrs of what would become the Christian faith.
It is not the first massacre of children in our Bible history.
It was not the last massacre of children in our world. All over the world children and adults alike are victimized by those who are fearful, hateful, power-hungry, or just plain mad.
Yet even in the despair and pain of this story, there is both huge loss and such relief and thankfulness, for the hearer of the story – as Jesus and his parents escape their planned fate and find sanctuary in Egypt. And those things, loss and relief and even gratitude, come together in life more often than we might imagine. The loss of a loved one at the end of a long life often comes with gratitude that they are no longer suffering, and perhaps some relief from the task of caregiving as well. The loss of many in a disaster comes with relief and joy that some survived. The loss of one particular struggle may mean relief that that particular fight is done, and that we can turn our energies elsewhere. Sometimes, we can even catch a glimpse grace in it all – a thread of the sacred, the holy, the mysterious running through the pain.
Some of us here today may feel that both the good and bad that we experience come to us directly from the hand of God. Others here today may feel that life is completely random, without any guiding hand or ultimate plan. And some of us may hover somewhere in the middle, feeling that most events simply unfold because that’s the way humans have chosen it or it’s just the way nature works, but that God’s good purposes for the universe are somehow working through all of what we experience. What I do know for sure, is that we are not passive victims of fate – we can choose. One day we may be the one journeying toward a sign of hope, a promise of light and joy; another day we may be journeying away, running from danger or sorrow or some threat or another. Some days, we are the magi, seeking wisdom; other days, we are the Holy Family, fleeing from persecution, needing a safe place to rest. This may be true in the outer world of our physical lives; it can also be true in the inner world of our spiritual lives.
With the present refugee crisis not only at the American border with Latin American, but our own, in Europe, in South Asia and many places in Africa too, many Christians have posted pictures of the Holy Family fleeing for their lives, to remind the world that Jesus, too, was a refugee running from an abusive government in the care of his parents. It is a reminder to us all that these human tragedies can touch anyone, anywhere – even a holy child whose life belongs to God. When I think of refugees, and the mix of pain and celebration that are so much a part of our existence, I think of Ash’s family: the celebration that his sister’s family and his cousin made it out of Syria; the happiness at Anthony’s success in Vancouver; the worry over his mother and father still in Syria and their illness and frailty; the financial struggle to sustain his parents and his sister’s family as well as his own wife and children while Hala and Hussein and their three are stuck in Lebanon. My last conversation with Ash was a mix of celebration and anxiety. Every time we speak he can’t say enough about how blessed he feels by his connection with Gordon United and the kindness this congregation has shown him, but he also is incredibly burdened by the plight of his family.
I want you to know that for Ash, we are a light shining in his darkness. What we and Maggie Hosgood, the BC volunteer who coordinates refugee applications, have done simply by giving him moral support and managing the paper work has been his Star in the East, his Epiphany light. When I offered on behalf of Gordon Council to do some fundraising to replenish the funds he has had to spend to support his family while they wait, you know what he said? He said only if half the funds went to Gordon United. Why? Because he believes that our church has an important ministry, is a light to the community, and he doesn’t want the church to have to sacrifice potential funds to help him. Let me tell you, in many ways Ash is my Star in the East! His gratitude and generosity of spirit inspire me to help this church continue to be that shining light in the night sky for others. Isn’t it incredible, how pain and struggle can produce such light?! That seems to me as miraculous, in its own way, as a peasant child’s escape from a tyrant’s mad and murderous commands.
As we think of the year past, we recognize both joy and sadness, terrible news and news of great joy. As we look toward the year ahead, we know that it will be the same: we will hear news stories that anger, shock, intrigue, educate or grieve us, and at the same time our friends will send us stories of births of new babies or children getting married or a homeless relative finding a home or an addicted friend celebrating an anniversary of sobriety and we will rejoice with them. There will be cancer diagnoses and successful surgeries and children struggling or succeeding in school and our sports teams will triumph or not and we ourselves will feel stronger or more frail or get promotions or find ourselves out of work or be given a marvellous gift or struggle to make ends meet or all of the other possibilities that make up the ups and downs of human living. We will do our darndest to raise enough money to cover the costs of the roof and support Ash’s family and we will succeed or we won’t; we’ll spend time together in this family of faith and sometimes we’ll disagree and sometimes we’ll agree but all of the time we’ll find some hope and inspiration for our living as Christian people. We’ll say good-bye to some old friends and say hello to some new ones. And we’ll keep on journeying together – and as much as we are able in the wisdom granted us by Christ our True Wisdom, we will journey away from that which endangers our bodies and our spirits and further into the hope and light and joy of life with God.
Kathleen Norris, in her book “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith” wrote these words: “When a place or time seems touched by God, it is an overshadowing, a sudden eclipsing of my priorities and plans. But even in terrible circumstances and calamities, in matters of life and death, if I sense that I am in the shadow of God, I find light, so much light that my vision improves dramatically. I know that holiness is near.” May you know and see and BE the light, my friends. Amen.