“The Alphabet of Hope” 12/29/2013 by Rev. Enid Watson (Click on title for audio)

The Alphabet of Hope
Matthew 2:13-23

It seems cruel that while we are still aglow from baby’s birth, the scent of evergreen infusing our winter spirits as we look into the cold, clear starry night sky, Matthew brings us back to reality. Herod felt so threatened by the birth of the so-called “King of the Jews” that he took all due precautions and slaughtered all the toddlers in Bethlehem. The event was so horrific that Massacre of the Innocents, those sweet little toddlers. who were surely as precious as Mary’s babe, goes undescribed. Instead, we hear only the voice of Mother Rachel, crying for her children, as Matthew evokes her voice in mourning over these latest of her lost children. The theologian Warren Carter describes the second chapter of Matthew as “The Empire Strikes Back.” And it did, with a vengeance so cruel that I loathe the thought of reading this passage if there are children in the pews.

Yet we are failing the gospel, and the very heart of God, if we regard this merely as a biblical or historical story or nightmare. A look at the news reminds us that the dear little boy in Fitchburg is still missing, presumed dead, and then there are all of the world’s children suffering from hunger, desperate poverty, lack of medical care… How much patience does God truly have, looking at a world that is rife with child abuse, murder, pedophilia, and on and on? Are we doomed to destruction and cruelty?

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “When I despair, I remember that, all through history, the way of justice and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always.”

What, then, is our Christian response to the slaughter of the innocents…today? How does justice and love triumph over evil and bloodlust? How do we open our hearts and lives to the social gospel and show the world that we Christians choose life over death, action over inaction, resurrection over crucifixion? How do we overcome ‘compassion fatigue?’

I have a child in my life, the daughter of an atheist, though the mom prefers to call herself a humanist. The mom is more orthodox in her atheism than I am in my Christianity. She is a good, moral person, dedicated to social justice. The girl said to me that people made up God because they were sad at the things that happen in life, and making up God made them feel better. I can’t really defend my belief to her without getting in trouble with her mom; I have been called to task even when I’ve been on good theological behavior: ghosts at Halloween were a nightmare for me. How do I explain that being a Christian has never made life easy? Jesus set a standard that looks easier to live than it is. It isn’t so much that the Spirit of God makes me feel better, but that faith gives hope and all-too-rare moments of joy.

And I must admit that the history of Christianity is not a pretty one. Gandhi, by the way, was a Hindu, and he is supposed to have said, about Christianity, that he thought it was a very admirable religion and that it was too bad that it had never been tried.

So, on this first Sunday after Christmas, let us remember that the difference between tyrants and us is that we care. We overcome our exhaustion, despair, inertia, whatever, and take a stand for hope, make a difference throughout the day. The real gift of God is that we have a choice, and perhaps that choice is our true Christmas gift.

I came across this a poem by Grace Shulman that explains it better than I… It is called “God’s Letters.

God’s Letters
by Grace Schulman
When God thought up the world,
the alphabet letters
whistled in [the holy] crown,
where they were engraved
with a pen of fire,
each wanting to begin
the story of Creation.

S said, I am Soul.
I can Shine out
from within your creatures.
God replied, I know that,
but you are Sin, too.

L said, I am Love,
and I brush away malice.
God rejoined, Yes,
but you are Lie,
and falsehood is not
what I had in mind.

P said, I am Praise,
and where there’s a celebration,
I Perform
in my Purple coat.
Yes, roared God,
but at the same time,
you are Pessimism—
the other side of Praise.
And so forth.

All the letters
had two sides or more.
None was pure.
There was a clamor
in paradise, words,
syllables, shouting
to be seen and heard
for the glory
of the new heavens and earth.

God fell silent,
How can song
rise from that commotion?

Rather than speculate,
God made A
first in the Alphabet
for admitting, I am All—
a limitation
and a possibility.
“God’s Letters” by Grace Schulman
The way that justice and love wins in our world is when we choose possibility in spite of limitation. Let us join Rachel and weep for all lost children, and then may our weeping end, our grieving heard by the Holy Ones, and our work proceed. There is an alphabet of hope for the new year. Ghandi was right…tyrants and murderers fail in the end because of people like us, everyday people, who choose life, who choose love, who choose service. Thus may it be for the new year, and forever more.
The Rev. Enid Watson
The Union Church in Waban
December 29, 2013?