God in the Flight Mathew 2: 13-23
Apparently Christmas did not end with the wonderful and joyous birth of Jesus. According to Matthew, God becoming flesh does not mean we get to scoot around or skip over the world as it is and the truth of innocent suffering. So, from the peace of the manger, we are plunged immediately into the world’s pain. As we hear the text for the week, I ask us to consider, what does this part of the Christmas journey say about who God is, and I would add, where God is?
As a part of my formation, I spent 2 years working as a hospital chaplain and student of pastoral care. My colleagues and I would rotate every 6 months through different parts of a large hospital system. I began in the cancer wing, moved to the heart floor and then spent 6 months with those hospitalized due to mental illness. By the time I was sent to the Pediatric hospital, I thought I had seen it all. In the first week, 3 children under the age of 12 died. I was supposed to be there, to try and comfort the family. I could not. Words were meaningless. The pain, like that of Rachel’s, was not to be consoled. I remember my mentor and teacher telling me, “Mark, you must learn how to simply stay in the room.”
Despite our efforts to box it up and wrap bows around it, I think Christmas is about a God who stays in the room, who goes to the heart of life as it is, who chooses to be born into the worst of human suffering, who resides where the pain is too great to be consoled. Too often, the Church seems to be looking for God out there somewhere, instead of right here. We too easily argue about heaven and how to get there while missing the God right before us, the God who is busy mucking out the barn of human heartache, trying to get in through the cracks of life.
We have 65.3 million people on the planet today who have been forced from their homes, more than has even been recorded. Over half are under 18. Many of those are from Syria, the same land that witnessed Herod’s brutal rule. However, most who make it to our nation’s borders are fleeing the terror of El Salvador. Like the holy family, they are running for their lives. This is how our savior began his life. In case you don’t know, I find to be no small irony that El Salvador means “savior” in Spanish.
What will happen when those escaping such horror reach the borders of our nation, the borders of our churches, the borders of our hearts? Whether fleeing the violence in El Salvador or Syria or the violence of poverty or addiction, will we see a modern version of the holy family? I don’t deny that such recognition is risky. It makes us vulnerable, even powerless, like a newborn baby. And yet, it is exactly along those edges of our own understanding and efforts and sense of power, that we get a glimpse of God’s understanding and efforts and power.
Christmas announces God’s address. God is where the pain and the fear are greatest. We need look no further. If you find yourself on the run, hear the Good News, you are not running alone. And if you are not the target of Herod’s fear, then hear the Good News, let’s pick up our mats, follow Jesus, and go to the suffering. You too are not alone. At times, it will be hard to stay in the room, but the God of liberation is there, patiently waiting for all of us.