Sunday, 29 December 2019

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.” (Matt 2:18 / Jer 31:15)
It's not all sweetness and light at Christmas.

When we look at the feast days after Christmas Day we remember :
  • Boxing Day - St Stephen, the first Christian martyr
  • 27th - St John the Apostle, who was exiled for his faith
  • 28th - Holy Innocents, who we remember in this reading.
  • 29th - Thomas Beckett, murdered for standing up to a king
Which isn't the list of happiness you might expect at the most wonderful time of the year. The Christmas story is barely five minutes in and we get this break-up of the manger scene. No wonder nativity plays like to stop with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, sheep, wise people and perhaps the odd Pokemon gathered round the manger in worship. This turns into a darker story. A story of murder and escape.

Fra Bartolomeo,- Rest on the flight into Egypt
Matthew's quoting from Jeremiah, and Jeremiah is looking at the exile to Babylon. He imagines Rachel - the mother of Benjamin and Joseph - weeping as her descendants are rounded up to be sent away from their homes. The tomb of Rachel is said to be just north of Bethlehem - sealed off from Bethlehem, which is now a Palestinian town, by a wall. The state of Israel says this is for protection, the Palestinian authorities say it is an apartheid wall. And so the world turns. There is a Christmas poem that Thomas Hardy wrote in 1924, while the Great War was still fresh in people's minds and bodies:
'Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.

Millions of Rachels mourning their children in that first world war. In the 2nd world war - once again it was the Jewish people that suffered terrible state-sponsored murder, persecution and displacement.

And today the mothers of Syria, the Rohingya people, minority Christians, members of other religions, and many atheists throughout the world suffer. As the carol puts it (and got there before Hardy)

Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;

It's easy to focus on the Holy Innocents and say - why didn't the angel warn their parents like Joseph was warned? But the murder of innocents continues every day that this world endures. Every day innocent people are harmed by the evil actions of others. And so the world rolls on, awaiting something better.

Jesus may have slipped away from danger, like Moses before him, on this occasion. But the forces of this world caught up with him in the end. 30 or so years later, having told everybody to love one another and forgive one another, he was killed by the State like his former neighbours those little Bethlehem boys. God knows what it means to be a refugee, the victim of injustice, a murder victim.

Methodists at this time of year are preparing for their Covenant service, with its amazing words:
I am no longer my own, but Yours.
Put me to what You will;
rank me with whom You will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for You or laid aside for You;
exalted for You, or brought low for you;
let me be full; let me be empty;
let me have all things; let me have nothing... 
It's not a prayer of passive acceptance, it's a wilful entry into the life of God. A renewal of the expectation that we share our life with the God who suffered on the earth.

If we enter into that life, we have to accept that we are lifting the cross. But we also enter into the life of the God who rose from the dead and who will come again. In the belief that though there are a billion pains in this life, yet it will all be made new. Through the One who came as a child, fled as a refugee, died as a criminal - but will return as a judge and bring justice for those he suffered with.
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
One day, all injustice will be overturned. One day, all the exiles will return. One day, Rachel's tears will be dried.

Want to support this blog? Want a good laugh? (or to shudder at death at any rate? Then here's two ways you can keep the Archdruid in doilies...
If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.


  1. What a thoughtful and inspiring message - and I only looked in for a quick laugh! Thank you.


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