Tuesday, December 28, 2010

First Sunday of Christmas

Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery, Grahamstown, South Africa
Brother Daniel Ludick, OHC
First Sunday of Christmas - 26 December 2010

Isaiah 63:7-9
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

Br. Daniel Ludick, OHC, with his sister, on May 08, 2010,
the day of his Life Profession of the Benedictine Vow.

“Love is a disgusting four letter word scratched out on a public toilet wall!” This is a free translation from a poem that Breyten Breytenbach, the well-known Afrikaans poet and activist, wrote while he was in exile in France in the 1970’s. “Love is a disgusting four letter word scratched out on a public toilet wall!”

We have just yesterday celebrated the birth of Jesus. Just yesterday, and already today he is a refugee, fleeing into exile. And he is going into exile because he was born in a time of fear and hatred and corruption and injustice.

Why does this sound so familiar?

In my more cynical moments, I think there is a whole list on that toilet wall that includes hope, justice, faith and charity. And perhaps those words are just graffiti on a toilet wall instead of the walls of our hearts, where they belong, because we have also exiled Jesus to another country or place. An old monk in our Order said that we cannot deal with Christ and his Gospel commandments in the here and now, so we have shot him off into the future so that we do not have to deal with all that stuff in the here and now. Stuff like; love God above all else and your neighbor as yourself.

How easy it is for us to exile Jesus. Jesus himself said when we meet the other, and feed them or clothe them; we do it to him also. But by not doing these things Jesus is exiled and turned into a refugee the world over, day by day. And why? Because love and hope and charity and justice have also been exiled to a toilet wall.

How are we going to get those words off that toilet wall and into our hearts and the heart of the world and turn them into actions of redemption for all of us? I suggest we could do it by looking our neighbor in the eye and saying to them; “Here is a cup of cold water for your thirst, a jacket for the cold and a piece of bread for your hunger.”

Or perhaps also through humility?

Michael Casey writes that faith, hope and charity (or love) are the drivers of humility. Humility links us to exaltation in God. Faith, he says, gives us the insight to perceive the workings of Providence in the practical realities of daily life. He continues to say that hope enables us to endure present incompleteness and difficulties in the confident assurance that all things work together unto good. He concludes by saying that charity (love) makes us forgetful of the self, it makes us willing to give others priority and makes us sincerely seeking God, who is the ultimate focus of all our loves.

Mary and Joseph are prime examples of this kind of humility. Mary’s saying yes to conceiving and bearing Jesus and Joseph's saying yes to marrying her anyway, despite the taboos of his day, and to take his family into exile on the strength of a dream.

With this as the example of what happens when we say yes, the end result is not pleasant, but we can be sure of clarity of vision and a heart that will be able to deal with what we see around us.

In the same way that Jesus’ exile did not stop when he was exiled with his family, the slaughter of the children has never stopped and continues unabated in our time. Matthew refers to Jeremiah in the retelling of Rachel’s wailing and loud lamentation for her children when he describes the killing of the children by Herod in the hope of killing Jesus. We have to become the Rachel for our generation and call the world’s attention to the horrors that are going on day by day. We must weep and lament when the most vulnerable of God’s children are sacrificed for war and greed and corruption.

We must get faith and hope and charity and love and justice back onto the walls of our hearts so we can have the strength to rise up against the Herods of our time and to say to them that they will not have any more of our children for slaughter! We have to work together to bring and sustain life where others plot death and destruction. And in the promise of the Gospels, it will be in these struggles that we will find life.

And this life keeps alive our hopes for Christmas.

Also in this hope is the presence of God in the same way that he was constantly present with Jesus and his family while they were in exile in Egypt. Knowing that God is present with us when we hear the cries of sorrow and pleas for justice, and even in our own cries of sorrow and our own pleas for justice and knowing that nothing can keep God away from us.

Too many parents are wailing and lamenting today and like Rachel, they refuse to be consoled because they have lost their children to slavery, to rebel armies as child soldiers, and as we have again recently seen in our own country, to child pornography. And we sitting here have so many examples right on our own doorsteps right here in Grahamstown.

Young, innocent martyrs, simply because Jesus is in their midst.

Today’s Gospel tells us that Christmas is not as pretty as we think it is, but we rather learn that this world can be very dangerous and it can be very cruel and life can be, and often is, subject to plots and schemes orchestrated by power hungry and corrupt, greedy people; the Herods of the world. And this is especially true if you are a child.

How can we, as followers of Jesus, have compassion for the Rachels of today? Perhaps we can share the love of Christ with them just by walking with them in their wailing and lamentation?

Yet we are always given hope, as we see again in the return of Jesus and his family from exile. We see that the Herods of this world do not prevail. Sooner or later they lose their power or they die. As we remember Jesus today and the dangers he faced as a refugee in exile, may we also remember all the children of this world who have been, or more importantly, are right now, as we sit here, being abused, tortured and murdered, or are fleeing their homes.

When we have love and charity and justice inscribed in our hearts, that will be when Christ will be back from his exile into the future and in our midst. And all the Herods of this world will be no more and our hope will be fulfilled.

And that is worth celebrating during the season of Christmas and all other seasons.


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