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Suffering Violence (2016-0101 message)

. 4 min read

01/01/2017
Christ Mountain Top
Psalm
148 (call to worship)
Matthew
2.1-12 (kids)
Matthew
2.13-23, with Hebrews 2.10-18 (message)
Song,
“My Deliverer” (Rich Mullins)
FB
responses to the end of 2016, the unexpected losses, human atrocities, divisive
politics, natural disasters, and personal struggles. . . . It can’t end soon
enough. And, here we are at the turn of the year, surprised by a Christmas
story that we prefer to forget. But, before we get into the story of the
slaughter of the holy innocents and the holy family seeking asylum as refugees
in a foreign land, a neat story from one of our sister churches:
      St Paul’s UMC, Scranton, welcoming
Congolese refugees
Today’s
Scripture passage moves us from the glowing lights, cute animals, and beautiful
baby of Christmas to raw violence, grief without comfort or reason, and the
danger and evil at the heart of the world. We realize, somewhere, that Jesus is
born into poverty, born into illegitimacy, born into oppression, but the
Christmas card covers and nativity sets do not highlight those realities. Jesus
comes as Prince of Peace, but no sitting king is interested in an upstart
prince, even a peaceful one. Jesus comes, and his arrival is – from the very
beginning – a profound political challenge to the status quo, to those in
power.
      So, maybe as readers we should have
expected a turn of events like this, an early attempt to snuff out the one who
came for the sole purpose of dying. By the end of the story, we’ve read the
account of a genocide and watched “God with us” become a refugee seeking asylum
in a strange land.

“The
Tyrant Issues His Decree”
by
Iain D. Cunningham
The
tyrant issues his decree,
and
only those forewarned can flee;
while
children, true to prophecy,
are
culled because of jealousy.
Bewildered
parents claw the air
with
shrieks of horror and despair,
and
all of Bethlehem laments
the
slaughter of the innocents.
Only
a tyrant could impose
this
murder of imagined foes:
yet
still the power of love defies
the
love of power and all its lies.
A
Saviour, saved by sacrifice
of
those who died there in his place,
shall
live to die another day,
and,
dying, show another way.
      Long Meter (88.88), as “Jesus Shall Reign”
Church
of the Nativity in Bethlehem – altar “to the Holy Innocents”
Why
is the baby Jesus such a threat?
 Isn’t the kingdom of God a spiritual
thing?  Perhaps Herod recognizes
something about Jesus, a political threat, that we miss.
For
the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their
courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from
which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No
powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King
Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish,
because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is
with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty.
Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness,
the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.
Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas,
found online at
http://www.qideas.org/
Why
did the innocent have to die? 
A
power-hungry king, yes
But
that answer is unsatisfactory, especially when combined with prophecy: So, if
God could rescue Jesus, then why not everyone? 
And, I don’t really care how impractical the suggestion is, I still want
everyone to be saved.
The
final piece of prophecy is interesting, and cryptic.  “He shall be called a Nazorean”?  The entire Old Testament says nothing of the
kind, unless you bring in word-play on the Hebrew term “nazer”, for “branch”:
A
shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of
his roots (Isaiah 11.1).
The
text from Isaiah itself is not focused on the town of Nazareth, but on Israel’s
experience of suffering followed by deliverance, judgment followed by
promise.  Jesus is revealed in Matthew as
not just the man from Nazareth but the one who suffers to redeem.
Why does God allow evil?
The
Bible offers many different possible answers, none of which apply in blanket
form to all the evil in the world. Discernment, and a willingness to not know,
are necessary.
      One of the most important theological
responses, not an answer but a response, to evil and suffering in the world is
the simple fact that Jesus became fully human and suffered. In the never-ending
“why” debate, we must not lose sight of the fact that God shares our suffering.
What
kind of Savior do we want?
Old
“Hercules” episode (from tv serial, season 3, episode 9, “A Star to Guide
Them”): A tyrant, heard an oracle re divine/royal child to be born among his
people.  Feared the child, determined to
kill him, if necessary to kill all the children of the kingdom just to be
certain of getting the one
      Hercules’ best friend and 2 other men (for
a total of the traditional 3) see a vision that leads them northward into the
tyrant’s kingdom, where they work to save children in each of the small towns,
eventually killing the tyrant himself.
      At the end, they are led by a star to a
small peasant hovel, where the child is assumed to be inside (though the camera
does not go inside).
A
super-hero?  Or a savior who emerges
through and is revealed in suffering? 
Hercules can destroy a tyrant. 
But only the Suffering Jesus can be the Prince of Peace.  Only the Suffering Jesus can both satisfy the
demands of justice for the oppressed and offer forgiveness to
perpetrators.  Since most of us have
fallen, at different times, into both camps, it is good news to know that Jesus
comes to save the entire human race.
      If we’re in a position of power, like
Herod, we’ll quake in our boots at his coming, react defensively and
aggressively.  If we’re oppressed, we’ll
rejoice . . . until we see Jesus hand out pardons.  Then, we’ll be tempted to take up a vendetta,
a holy war.

We
need a Savior who knows the violence that threatens us, and the violence
growing in our souls.  And we have this
Savior in Jesus Christ.  We need a Savior
who understands that salvation is worked out not by destroying us and our
violence but by redeeming us and making us whole again.  We need a Savior who can take our brokenness
and make something whole.  Not even
Hercules can do that.  We have this
Savior in Jesus Christ and Christ alone.