Based on Matthew 2. The slaughter of the Innocent babies of Bethlehem
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus. Amen.
Merry Christmas. My middle son, Luke, wanted a new scooter for Christmas. And he received it. Along with a new helmet. I think he has three helmets now. One for his bike and scooter, one for his skate board, and one for his roller blades. Luke must wear them when he rides. It’s a requirement. I think we would wrap his body in bubble tape if we could to avoid injury. With the exception of some minor scrapes, we have done so. For 10 years. Luke did fall off the monkey bars once, got a bad cut on his forehead, landed in the ER twice. Ended up with a bad staph infection. A little wound debreeding in the OR and some high octane antibiotics and he was good to go. That was not a fun weekend. He still has that scar, like Harry Potter.He lost a weekend and a little skin. His mother and I lost about 5 years. It was multiplied by the fact that she and I were in Philly with friends visiting a museum on the morning that he fell at school. My wife’s parents handled the first er visit. But our day out came to an early end.
Talking helmets and head injuries, when I was a kid we didn’t have bike helmets. I think I got a head injury about every other day. Accounts for a lot of things, come to think of it. You know that old saying, its like falling off a bike. I tested that many times. We used to build jumps out of scrap wood. We’d fly down the hill as fast as we could and hit the jump doing about 35 miles an hour, and then we would crash. No helmet. Just me and the Cherokee chief, my first bike that outweighed me. They build everything light weight now. But then, you landed with the bike on you, it hurt more than the ground. I also got a three wheeler ATV one Christmas, when I was 10. Don’t get any ideas, Jonah. It ain’t, happening. I remember racing in the woods against my neighbors’ dirt bike with no helmets on. We could’ve died. I flipped that thing a couple of times. That was scary. But I never broke a bone. And I never told my mom. That was the rule, risks are secrets.
When we were kids the seat belts were safely tucked under the seat cushions, out of the way thank you. We did not wear them. In front or back seats. On those vinyl seats, ice cold in winter, hot and sticky in summer, you would just slide around. My kid brother fell right out the car once. Turning left in the inner section. He pulled the car door handle, no child safety locks, and out he went. Eventually we alerted my mother, who was driving and we turned around. He was scraped, but uninjured. Today, my mother would do time for that. We don’t move the car, unless everyone is buckled. And baby seats? You have to have an engineering degree to install them in the vehicle. This is one of the 700 things new parents have to figure out. And the baby looks like an astronaut about to launch; seat is reversed, five point harness, baby helmet, padding, cushions, bubble wrap…in 1962,John Glenn was launched into space and orbited the earth in an aluminum can. Our babies are wrapped in Kevlar body armor and strapped into a tank before we go to target. As parents, we get a new perspective.
Its Christmas and we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. His incarnation, the physical presence of God on earth, does not provide divine protection. His birth was not to provide a blanket of safety and a way out of the insecurity, vulnerability, and risk of human life. It was the opposite. God joined us in the vulnerability. God takes off his seat belt and climbs in the back seat with us. God gets on the three wheeler, takes off on the scooter. God takes the risk of being human. And it is a great risk, a perilous one. The story we hear of infanticide is remembered on the 28th of December by the church every year. As we celebrate the joy of birth, we encounter the risk of death. It is the second bible story about infanticide by public policy or government decree. The first is the story of the Exodus, now in theatres. The Egyptian Pharaoh feared the growing population of foreigners in his country. So he enslaved them and instructed their midwives to kill and the males, drowning them in the Nile. Baby Moses was saved in a basket and rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. He would later become the public leader of the liberation movement that included violent opposition and the death of Pharaoh’s own son. Four women protected baby Moses from drowning; midwife, mother, sister, Pharaoh’s daughter. Maternal instincts doing the work of God. Further proof that God is a woman. Or he answers to one.
Jesus’ parents are warned in a dream to flee to Egypt to avoid the tragic massacre. They do. But the massacre happens. Mother’s wept and Father’s cried. No one should have to bury their baby. That is a rule in every culture. Unfortunately, we live in a world where that is impossible to avoid sometimes. War, disease, famine, violent oppression. Children are casualties still. We remember them today. All of them, in every time and place.
Baby Jesus will grow up. And be baptized. And lead a liberation movement to free all people from the power of sin and death. He leads the forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation movement. He gives his life for the life of the world. He leads the death and resurrection movement too. According to the story, Jesus’ mother Mary will see his crucifixion and bury her son. Despite her attempts to protect him as a boy, she could not protect him as a man. And he died young. As a prisoner, executed under the watch of the son of the man who ordered the slaughtering of the children of Bethlehem.
Today we baptize Mason James. Our instincts are to protect our children. We may think of baptism as a kind of holy protection. An insurance policy against sin, death, and the devil. And it is, in part. But it is more than that. Mason becomes a child of God. You are handing him over today, in one of many acts of parenthood in which you must risk letting him go. He belongs to God and to the Christian family. He is our baby now. If he is raised to know Christ, then he may also risk following him. If he does, he will experience the cross. Because Baptism is also Christian calling. Put in his hands the Scriptures and teach him to love God. Teach him to walk in His ways, ways of compassion, justice, and peace; Because we are performing infanticide today. Luther called Baptism a daily dying and rising, drowning in God’s Word and the water. When we are baptized into Christ we are baptized into his death and his resurrection, said Paul. Today, you put Mason in the hands of God. The God who knows what it means to suffer the pain of losing your son. The God who knows what it is to live and to die. I have done my share of presiding over the death of adult children, whose parents suffer terribly. I have baptized many children too. When we are born, we enter the good creation and take on the risk of living and the promise of death. In Holy Baptism, we acknowledge the risks and the promise. But we hope for something more, resurrection and eternal life. We hope for divine protection, salvation, and peace. We hope for Mason to reflect the light of God, to become a faithful servant and caretaker of God’s creation. May you experience God’s protection and peace and may you risk everything for Jesus’ and his kingdom.