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From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
1st After Christmas - Year A
Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they were no more." You may remember Rachel. She never had it easy. On the one hand she had Laban for a father. On the other she had Jacob for a husband. Then there was her sister Leah. If you know what I mean. She was the prettier of Laban's daughters when Jacob came to work for them and she stole Jacob's heart the first time he laid eyes on her. Jacob agreed to work seven long years for her and he was good on his word. But when it came time to close the deal Laban tricked him and sent Leah into the wedding chamber after the lights were turned down. Jacob ended up having to work another seven long years for Rachel while learning to live with Leah for whom he didn't bargain. When they finally did get married, Rachel found that she couldn't have babies. As if to add salt to the wound, her sister Leah had four and found not-so-subtle ways to hold it over her sister's head. Eventually, Rachel did have a child named Joseph. She just didn't get to enjoy him for very long. By the time she gave birth to her second baby, her body wasn't up to it. With her dying breath, she named him Benoni, which means 'child of my sorrow'. Jacob eventually changed it to Benjamin. She became a symbol for Israel, in other words, of inconsolable sorrow. How can anyone console you when so much that seems to happen to you is unfair and full of sadness? So, when the Babylonians carried off Israel into exile centuries later, Jeremiah wrote that it was like old Rachel was still crying out from her grave. Rachel's children were God's children. Is Ephraim my dear son? - Jeremiah 31.20 God said in response to the tragedy that befell the lot of them. Then, answering his own question, he said, As often as I speak against him, I still remember him... Therefore my heart longs for him. And if anybody would have understood, Rachel would have. + As it has often been pointed out by skeptics, the slaughter of Bethlehem's baby boys by Herod is probably a pious legend. Matthew is doing what Matthew does best, using scripture to interpret scripture. The slaughter of innocents is a biblical motif, which forms the tale of Moses as well. Moses had to flee from Pharaoh. He stays away until God informs him that it is safe to return. So Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on an ass, and went back to the land of Egypt. - Exodus 4.20 And he (Joseph) rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel." It all fits very nicely into what Matthew has a mind to do, which is to remind us that Jesus is the new Moses, the one who will finally and fully lead his people out of bondage. But Matthew's story is more than just midrash. It is a deliberate reminder of the kind of world into which Jesus was born. While Herod may not have slaughtered Bethlehem's babies, there is no doubt he was a child murderer. He had three of his own children executed under accusation of conspiring against their father: in 7 B.C., his sons Alexander and Arisoboulos by his second wife Marianne (whom he killed in 29 B.C. for adultery); and, five days before his own death in 4 B.C., his oldest son, Antipater, by his first wife, Doris. Herod had been married to a total of ten wives. His murderous behaviour is said to have made Augustus remark that he would rather be Herod's pig than his son. The point of the joke is that in Greek, which cultivated Romans spoke at the time, the word for pig (hys) and son (hyios) sound alike. As Jew, Herod didn't eat pork, but he did murder his sons. - Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things The brutal face of Herod hangs over the Christmas story like a funeral pall. It is about a cruelty, an utter disregard for human life that we see again and again throughout scripture and throughout human history. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet... We need to be careful about interpreting Matthew. He is not saying that the murderous events that do happen in the world are God's will. The message is not that God summons evil to accomplish divine purposes, but that the scripture knows the tragic human destruction woven into the fabric of history and that not even evil in its most catastrophic form, evil as cold and merciless as the murderer of innocent children, can destroy God's ability to save. - Thomas G. Long, "Matthew" In Moses' story an infant was spared so that a leader could be born to save his people. In Jesus' story, the "new Moses" was spared so that a saviour could be born. A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children... Matthew probably had at least two reasons for including this quote from Jeremiah. We know that Rachel was associated in Jewish lore with the village of Bethlehem. A popular legend was that Rachel's tomb was there. More importantly, the passage from Jeremiah refers to the Babylonian captivity of Israel. In Jeremiah, chapter 40, verse 1, Ramah is specified as the place where Jeremiah parts company with the exiles who are being taken by their captors to Babylon. Ramah, in other words, is the place of mourning for all of God's people, where the mother of God's children, Rachel, still weeps from her grave. The poignant picture of a mother weeping for her lost children is used as a foil to the picture of redemption. God is coming to save his people, Matthew wants us to know. And it is as if God is saying, Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for... they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future,... your children children shall come back... - Jeremiah 31.16-17 And the question we need to ask this Christmas is: will they? Will Rachel's children come back? + In the early morning of October 10, 2001, 20-year old Claudia Ivette González Banda arrived two minutes late for the assembly line job at a U.S. owned auto parts supplier in Juárez, Mexico, after missing her bus. Her employer told her to go home under a company policy that bars workers from starting their shifts late. That was the last time anyone remembers seeing her alive. A month later, her body was found along with those of seven other young women in a mass grave in a cotton field across the street from the Maquila owners Association of Juárez. Two years later, Mexican authorities had no one in custody and no credible suspects for the killings. Since 1993, 370 young Mexican women have been killed in Juárez, just over the border from El Paso, Texas. More than 450 women have disappeared since that time. At least 137 were sexually assaulted before they were murdered. Most of the murdered women came to Juárez from desperately poor rural areas in order to make $10 a day in maquilas, foreign-owned plants that multiplied along the U.S.-Mexican border, after NAFTA, the North American Freed Trade Agreement, was signed by Canada, the United States and Mexico in 1994. The maquilas in Juárez employ some 220,000 people and include companies such as Ford, General Motors and Dupont. Often alone and with little means of contacting their families, the young Mexican women work for wages that seem like good money compared with what they could earn back home, but it is not enough to pay the cost of living in a booming city like Juárez. They become mired in poverty, forced to work in jobs where they are fired at will, with no legal protections, including the right to join unions. In short, these are young women with no power in society, whose deaths have no political importance to local authorities. "While the city and its industry depend on them totally, they are important only as paid workers, not as human beings," says Rosario Acosta, the mother of one of the disappeared and co-founder of May Our Daughters Return Home. " If they disappear, they cannot be replaced." The slaughter of the innocents in Matthew may be a pious legend. It is a fact of life for thousands of women and children who are the victims of violence in this world every passing day. When we support government policies and buy products from corporations without demanding accountability for the kinds of circumstances that are created for the most vulnerable in our midst, we end up with innocent blood on our hands. Rachel still cries out from the grave for her children who are no more. The missing women of Juárez is simply one of many reminders that we live in Babylon. We will not return home, not any of us, until we learn to weep with Rachel, until we learn to weep with the God who cannot forget any of her children. + Isaiah 63:7-9 - The rabbis say that when God's people suffer, God suffers. That is the reason God called to Moses from a thornbush. Can you think of a more painful place from which to speak? God is speaking in the prelude to this week's text like an aggrieved parent, wondering out loud whether Israel will remember and appreciate everything God has done for them. Then follows a most remarkable assurance. God will come to save his people without using anyone else. God will simply butt in and save his people like a parent who picks up a child and carries him. 1. As a text for returned exiles to Jerusalem, why would this be appropriate? 2. When you have endured a terrible trauma, like the experience of exile must have been, what is the great temptation? 3. What is so comforting about such a text? When have you experienced such comfort or embodied it? Hebrews 2:10-18 - The author of Hebrews reminds his readers that God kept coming to them time and again through the centuries not because they were "angels, but the descendants of Abraham" and anybody who was anybody knew what that meant. If ever there was a people that had a habit of looking a gift horse in the mouth, it was the descendants of Abraham. Is that what the author means to say about why Jesus suffered? Because Jesus would embody the long-suffering heart of God for his people? 1. What would be the author's point in the phrase "he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham"? 2. Did Jesus suffer for us or because of us? Matthew 2:13-23 - The fury of Herod finds tragic expression. He decides on a "permanent solution" to ensure that a messiah is not born in Bethlehem. Matthew changes his usual formula for using Old Testament prophecy to prove why something has happened and he stops short of claiming that the murder of innocent children is God's will. Instead he uses the tragic story to illustrate how not even evil in its most catastrophic form can thwart God's determination to save. 1. What have you learned about Rachel from this week's reflection? 2. Why is her lament such an appropriate one for people like us? 3. List as many places and events for which you can imagine Rachel mourning today. FOR FURTHER REFLECTION AND ACTION - To date, Mexican authorities have been slow to act in response to the horrifying pattern of violence against women that has been taking place since 1993. You can help by signing a petition sponsored by Amnesty International urging the Mexican government to take the appropriate action to protect its citizens. Violence against women must be tackled at its roots. All instances of it must be thoroughly investigated, those responsible brought to justice and steps taken to address the causes of women's vulnerability to violence. You can sign this petition by visiting: www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/895598023. HYMN: "Unto Us a Boy Is Born" (Voices United 54)
copyright - Barry Robinson 2005 page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
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