Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully lullay. O sisters, too, how may we do / for to preserve this day/ this poor youngling for whom we sing / bye-bye lully lullay? Herod the King, in his raging charged he hath this day / his men of might, in his own sight/ all young children to slay. That woe is me, poor child for thee! / And every morn and day / for thy parting nor say nor sing / bye-bye lully lullay. Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully lullay.
This reading is a bucket of ice cold water thrown on the sweet baby Jesus in the manger of last week. Now reality "bites" as it is said. The Episcopal Church lectionary for reasons unknown to me take out the verses about all the baby boys being slaughtered by Herod as he tries to protect his throne from any who might challenge him and his family.
Mary and Joseph must be wondering what they have gotten themselves into listening to angels and dreams. Having a baby in a manger was just the beginning of the trials of birthing God into this world. After the visits of the shepherds and angels, here come the Magi - 3 or more since it only tells of 3 gifts - we don't know. We don't know who they are either - from the East - there is a new book out claiming they came from China. But they were foreigners, we know that - from some place "other" than Bethlehem or Nazareth. Wealthy since they brought such expensive gifts. Educated - understanding the movement of the stars and the planets. Not like the probably illiterate and rough shepherds. Also bringing the unintended consequence of the interest of the powers that be. In the story Herod is very interested in this new "king." And though the Magi return by another way - not going back to inform Herod of the whereabouts of the Jesus - the response is horrific. All the male children under the age of 2 are to be killed. Though there is no record of this event -- it is the oft times consequence of the clash of power and children. Just look at the daily news - Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti, Nigeria - those who would maintain power and keep the wealth to themselves do not care about the collateral damage to children.
The little family now must flee like so many other families in our world today. War, famine, drought, flood, earthquakes make refugees out of all - some who thought they were secure and many who have never known security. In their case Egypt opened its arms to protect them. And even when they returned to Israel they had to avoid certain areas.
Egypt is a continuing theme in the Bible - from the time of Jacob to the time of our Gospel. For Jacob and his family it was also a place of refuge -- Joseph had been exiled there by his brothers - and just like our Joseph of the Gospel he finds a place of refuge and place to flourish. It is welcoming to the refugees. Then it becomes a place where staying is no longer an option. For Jacob's descendents it becomes a place of oppression and Moses must lead them out of slavery. For Jesus = he must return to the land of his birth to lead us all out of slavery.
Both Jeremiah and the Psalm that we read today long for refuge and freedom. Jeremiah lived through the terrible days of Exile when the Babylonians swept through Israel and Judah and took all the leaders off to exile. They longed and kept faith for several generations that they would someday return to their homeland and experience the joy and peace of the psalmist who sings of the sparrow finding a nest in the house of the Lord - the Temple. The sparrow whom Jesus assures us has God's eye even when falling from the sky. The sparrow - the least of birds.
The letter to the Ephesians is also encouraging people not to lose sight of the joy and peace and abundance that comes with being God's people.
For me the lessons speak of two themes - one to those of us who need refuge from whatever is troubling us in our lives. Where can we find that place of peace and joy? And the danger that the wrong kind of refuge can end up as a prison and enslaving us.
The other theme is welcoming the stranger who needs a place of refuge -- those who come to this country for economic reasons or to escape war or disaster. How do we become a place of welcome that allows people to grow and flourish in our midst? My grandparents on both sides came here for economic reasons - there was no work in Scotland and Norway. This country was seen as a place to change one's fortunes. It was not easy. Maybe that is why I have a soft spot for current immigrants. In Jackson, the Episcopal Church is a resource to the Latino community - the Latino Resource Center offers help negotiating the difficulties of law and language. Many Anglo members of the congregation have taken Spanish lessons offered by the church to better understand the newcomers in their midst.
One thing I really like about Trinity is the readiness to help others. Even though we might not always be able to meet all the bills that come with having a building - there is never a lack of coming forward to help others. Over Christmas the Diocesan Foundation offered matching grants to churches to do something helpful in their communities -- Trinity jumped at the chance to match the full amount and helped a family struggling with medical bills.
I read recently about Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet using their immense wealth to change the world for the better - rather than keeping it all for themselves and their families - they are giving it away. They also are trying to get others with great wealth to sign on to a pledge to do this.
The lessons of today speak to the on going struggle between the world of tyrants and the world as God would have it - we are called to choose. Will we join the Herod's of this world - keeping power and wealth all to ourselves or will we work for peace and abundance for all peoples? Each little thing we do - like the First Stop or the Food Bank or electing people who want the best for everyone - education, health care, opportunities. Each thing breaks the grip of the chains that keep all people from growing into that which God dreams for us and for them.
Painting: Luc Olivier Merson's Rest on the Flight into Egypt