Christmas 2: "Not just about happy families"

The Reverend Margaret Legg

There are 3 times in the Bible when people of faith have to deal with infanticide:

  • Pharoah’s order to slaughter every new born Hebrew boy. When the Hebrew midwives refused, he ordered the Egyptian people to throw them into the Nile;
  • The Israelites who turned away from God and worshipped trees and poles like Baal and sacrificed their own children as food for these idols, burning them alive in front of the images (Jeremiah and Ezekiel);
  • And Herod the Great’s Slaughter of the Innocents in today’s Gospel. 

But it asks the question, if there is a loving God, where’s the evidence?

There seems very little. Infanticide still happens. Over 12 million people have been displaced in Syria during the conflict there, half of them children. 10,000 children were killed during the first 3 years of the conflict.

Christmas is not only about happy families, as the secular world would increasingly have us believe. It is about reality. And the reality of life, I suggest, is that we are all prone to do what we shouldn’t. Those in power are particularly prone, especially when they wield that power by force, not consent.

Herod the Great was a great man, actually. He clamped down on terrorism, he solved the huge employment problem by embarking on a massive programme of public works – I remember visiting the remains of one of the palaces constructed for him in the middle of the desert, complete I recall, with pipes for running water – and he generously funded a brand new temple. 

But greatness was exactly his problem, as it is for all absolute monarchs, dictators, tribal chieftains and warlords. The more successful, the more total the control, then paradoxically the more vulnerable is the leader. 

So that in the end, your whole empire and achievement is threatened by little children, who have no real power at all. Where is the loving God in all this? The loving God, I suggest, was in the thick of it, challenging Herod, because the real threat to Herod was not another King of Israel, but the Prince of Peace, whose armoury is stocked with love.

In the Incarnation, God born as a human, brings to the mystery of unmerited suffering, the bigger mystery of unmerited love. To the unmerited suffering caused on a monumental scale by dictators like Syria’s Assad, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Kim Yong-un of N. Korea. The suffering we are each capable of inflicting on one another, even though we don’t intend to. As St Paul famously puts it, in Romans 7, ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’ I believe we all have the potential to be King Herods. Not that we go around killing children, but we can so easily destroy what is good, blemish what is intended to be positive. 

For many years I sat on the Garden Square Committee where we lived – nowhere round here, I hasten to add, but south of the park! Every time we met, the proceedings were dominated by a Queen Herod, who thought she knew more about gardening than the Grosvenor Estates’ paid gardeners who were always in attendance. She treated us at each meeting to long monologues about many items on the Agenda. She made them a long and drawn out misery. To our collective shame not a single member ever challenged her and I for one used to get very exercised by my inability to address the problem. 

We can’t solve the problems of the Middle East, but we can make a difference at home, at work, in organisations and clubs to which we belong. Because we all have the potential to do good, to show love to one another, to bring a smile. I was walking to the bus stop last week, not really feeling a 100%, my face probably resembling that of the grim reaper, when an elderly chap passed by. He caught my eye because he was wearing a flat cap, a fairly unusual sight these days in Central London. He took one look at me and with a beam on his face said in a broad Geordie accent, which I won’t attempt to copy: ‘Happy Christmas, darling!’ - Well that made me chuckle and laugh. What a lovely start to the day!

No religion professes that God made a perfect world. Rather we believe that God made the world good, and that love, only love can make it better. This is the challenge to us each day: to live lives grounded in love. This prayer which I came across in a book called ‘The Art of being Brilliant’ might help us:

Dear God,
So far today, I’ve done alright.
I haven’t gossiped. I haven’t lost my temper.
I haven’t been greedy, moody, nasty or selfish.
And I’m really glad about that.
But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed.
And from then on I’m going to need a lot more help!

Evil, wrongdoing, is never far away and we must not hide from it, even by hiding in bed, even at Christmas, maybe especially at Christmas.