Thursday, January 10, 2013

Finally checking back in... thoughts.

I haven't blogged in some time.  I was one of those flu victims that you're hearing about in the news.  I'm all better now!

I've thought more about the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT, as I said I would.  I think most of my thoughts have already been articulated by others by this time... thoughts about gun control; mental health; a culture of violence; a culture of alienation; etc. But also, thoughts about the attention the media gives to tragedies in upper middle class towns, versus the attention given to tragedies in inner cities, or in lower income towns... and also, thoughts about the attention the media gives to the death of innocent Americans, versus the attention give to the death of innocents in other countries.

Singing "Silent Night", December 24, 2012, UUCiA.
I touched on some of this in my Christmas Eve homily -- sick though I was!  The gist of my remarks were this:

On Christmas Eve, as has been the tradition of the UUCiA for the past several years, we ended our nativity scriptures with the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2, verse 12.  But this year, it seemed impossible to leave out “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey might say).  What happens next, starting at Matthew 2:13?  This is the story known sometimes as “The Escape into Egypt”, sometimes – an especially poignant title this year – it is called “The Massacre of Innocents.”  In this part of the story, "an angel of the Lord appear[s] to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he sa[ys], 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'

And so, Joseph gets up.  And he takes baby Jesus and Mary "during the night and le[aves] for Egypt,  where he stay[s] until the death of Herod. 

But before Herod’s death, there is a horrific tragedy.  The nativity story goes on to say that “when Herod realize[s] that he ha[s] been outwitted by the Magi, he [i]s furious, and he … orders [the killing of] all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then [as the Gospel of Matthew tells us] what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

‘A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.’

The timelessness of ancient scriptures means that each year we hear the familiar old stories, but we hear them in a slightly different way.  We see them in a new light; the light of our days, and the days just passed.  This year, perhaps this part of the story makes us think of current events – whether in the suburbs of Connecticut or in inner-city neighborhoods or in war-torn countries – and think of the tragedy of young death, and the inconsolable weeping of those left behind.  We know that innocents do indeed die, and we remain “creatively maladjusted” to such horrors, to quote Martin Luther King, Jr.

But I hear something else in the familiar, ancient stories this year.  I hear, more poignantly than I have in some years, the nativity story from the Gospel of Luke telling us to “be not afraid” – “fear not”.  The world has dangers, and there is much of which we feel afraid.  But we cannot focus on fear.  We cannot give in to the culture of fear.  Perhaps fear tempts us to turn our world into a guarded fortress.  But this is not the way we want to live.

In the midst of the headlines of 2012, the angels in the Gospel of Luke arrive to remind us of the ancient wisdom: “Be not afraid!” … “Fear not!”

It’s not that there’s nothing to fear.  The angels, in addition to saying, “Be not afraid” also give many warnings of dangers, after all.... The angels say “fear not” because there is too much to do to retreat into fear.  Be not afraid, because the world needs you to be courageous!

As my colleague the Rev. Wendy Bell of the Harvard Unitarian Universalist Church (whose thoughts helped inspire my own words on Christmas Eve) put it, the voices say to Mary, “Be not afraid because we need you to bring forth new life and to bless the world with your capacity for creativity – EVEN IF – or perhaps especially if – you don’t feel up to the task, if you feel it is unreasonable or even impossible.  Don’t let your fear get in your way!”

To Joseph (as Rev. Bell put it), the voices say “Be not afraid because we need you to stand up for this new life, to affirm it, to sanction it, to give it legitimacy and therefore afford it some protection.”

To the shepherds (as Rev. Bell put it), the voices say “Be not afraid because we need you to honor and celebrate this new life and to nurture it with your gifts. Shepherds were in the business of keeping their sheep safe and leading them to green pastures and to water, protecting them from wolves and wild dogs. Be not afraid because we need you to nurture and protect this new life/creativity until it can grow into its own.”  I would add, the voices say: “Rise up shepherd, and follow!”

The ancient nativity story reminds us: We need to be creatively maladjusted to cruelty and tyranny in the world.  As Rev. Bell put it, “We need you to bring forth new possibilities. We need you to nurture and protect them and help them grow.”

This is the hope of Christmas. And you – no matter what you might think – you have a role in bringing about the Beloved Community.... And that’s the rest of the story.