Not Everything Is Happy at Christmas

For the last few days there has been more excitement than usual around the Swan house. Its not just because the girls are home, but because the Power Ball, prior to last night’s drawing, was worth over 300 million dollars. 300 million is the breaking point for the Swan family to enter the lottery. Despite my grandfather’s consternation of wasting my money on my first lottery ticket thirty years ago, I still believe the lottery is the cheapest form of entertainment out there.  
Playing the Power Ball, at least for us, offers a few days of escape, a reprieve from the burden of mortgages and student loans. It offers us a time to dream about what our lives could be like if they were free of financial worries. It doesn’t matter that our chances of winning are over a million to one, someone has to win, so why not us. 
This, of course, leads to the let down that follows every drawing as life once again continues as it always had and most likely always will. 
However, what I do remind myself after every loss is, despite someone else winning, who always lives in some obscure part of the Midwest, there are many lotteries I have won. 
Unlike so many of our brothers and sisters, I realize how lucky I am to have been born in the United States, a country where we are able to live in relative safety and stability. I am lucky to be born among the dominant reality of this country both white and male. I was lucky to be born into a family that has resources, which allowed me to obtain a college education. This in turn allowed me access to employment with which to comfortably provide for my family. 
Knowing how much I have and how much I have been given, causes me to struggle with this morning’s Gospel. Not because Mary and Joseph find themselves fleeing for their lives, but because of all the other families who stayed behind, who had no idea of the atrocity that was about to befall them. I also struggle, because those who designed the lectionary left out this part of the story. Herod’s slaughter of innocence is only read on December 28th and only if we are willing to take time away from our Christmas festivities to attend to daily prayer. 
The slaughter of all male children residing in Bethlehem under the age of two by King Herod is contained in the four verses missing from this morning’s Gospel. Why weren’t these parents warned to flee the city as well? They were like so many others living under Herod’s rule who won the wrong lottery.
What makes this morning’s Gospel even more frustrating, is that there is no way to make Herod’s slaughter feel good. From a historical perspective, the only words of comfort I could find is that there is no historical data supporting such a slaughter. But the writer goes on to explain this does not mean it didn’t happen. King Herod was a brutal despot, who couldn’t tolerate anything that threatened his power. A slaughter of this magnitude could have easily happened and gone unnoticed. Theologians state that we shouldn’t worry about the loss of life, that’s not the point of the story. Instead, we should focus on how God’s plan for humanity could not be foiled even by one as ruthless and as evil as Herod. 
I suspect, my sources are missing the point of this passage and the designers of the lectionary have done us a great disservice by excluding the Herod’s slaughter of children from today’s Gospel. I feel this passage is designed to bring us out our post Christmas haze . . .to bring us back to reality. After several days of singing Joy to the World, and feasting as if the Kingdom has fully arrived, this Second Sunday of Christmas along with the Feast of Holy Innocence are designed to literally pierce the bubble of Christmas by reminding us that the Kingdom is near but not yet here. 
There is still great suffering and evil in this world. King Herod still reigns in many parts of this world and within this country as well. And yes, we should be upset by this, yes we should be appalled by the atrocities of humanity. The question we should be asking, however, is not why does God permit this, but why do we? 
This morning’s gospel tells me that we should be appalled by the fact that children in this country still go to bed hungry because their parents are unable to earn enough to provide the basics they need to learn and to grow into productive members of our society. And yes, we should be appalled by the fact that nearly 10% percent of the world’s population goes under nourished while millions of pounds of food are wasted each year, either because it did not look slick enough for our grocery shelves, or because it went uneaten at home or in our restaurants.
And yes, we should be angry because over four million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes and live in refugee camps because of the war and the evil that has taken over their country. And we should be equally angry that our politicians use the lives of these people as political footballs because there is a chance that .01%, that is one in a thousand, may wish to do us harm. . .Especially when we are confronted with the fact that only 2000 Syrian refugees have been allowed into this country over the past three to five years. 
Yes, we should be frustrated that God allowed the brutal slaughter of children to take place 2000 years ago as the Holy Family fled to Egypt. In the same way, we should be frustrated that this slaughter continues today both here at home and throughout the world. As a people of God, who hold to the sanctity of human life from birth to death, what has been excluded from today’s Gospel should upset us and it should also motivate us. It should motivate us to do all we can to stop hunger and violence. It should motivate us to pressure our politicians to stop using the suffering of millions for political posturing instead of seeking the solutions, no matter how complex, that will help end the unnecessary suffering of today so that the path will be made straight and the Christ can return once again. 
Amen

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