Sermon on 28th December 2014

Twelve days ago, on Tuesday 16 December 2014, seven members of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan entered a school in the northern city of Peshawar and opened fire, killing 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren. Some have thought this was the Taliban’s response to the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai earlier this year. Whatever the reason, this was a tragedy for all the children and families concerned, as well as for their communities, for Pakistan, and for the world.

On this day, dedicated to the memory of the killing of innocent children in Bethlehem by king Herod, we remember all children killed by the power-crazed, armed, and violent.

But it is not only the Taliban who are killing innocent children in Pakistan. Since 2004, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America has been carrying out unmanned ‘Drone’ attacks in Pakistan through its Special Activities Division. To date these ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ have killed between 286 and 890 civilians, including between 168 and 197 children (source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism, October 2014 Update: US covert actions in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia). And I would remind you that the United States is not at war with Pakistan. Pakistan is supposed to be our ally in the so-called ‘war on terror’!

Meanwhile in the Gaza strip, the Israeli government’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’ offensive killed more than 2,100 Palestinians this year, while Palestinian rockets killed 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians.

And in Bethlehem, where this morning’s gospel tells us that the massacre of the innocents once occurred: in Bethelehem today, the Israeli government is constructing a ‘barrier’ that is three metres (nine feet) high. This barrier cuts off families from their fields and olive groves, in many cases their only source of income. The Israelis then make it very difficult for Palestinians to access their own land, by making them queue at border crossings where they are often turned away. If this happens often enough, the harvest will be ruined, the family will have lost its income, and the fields and olive groves can be declared ‘abandonned’ and appropriated for use by Israelis. Another name for this is ‘theft’.

Some Israelis use the Bible to justify their appropriation of Palestinian land. But the Bible says: ‘When you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, never steal someone’s land by moving the boundary markers’ (Deut. 19:14).

Israel and the United States of America are complicit in the massacre and oppression of innocents. They need to repent and turn away from their addiction to power and violence.

But lest we in Europe think that we are off the hook, I would like us to consider another element of the story we have just heard…

‘Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod’ (Matt. 2:14-15).

Christmas 1/Holy Innocents on Sunday 28 December 2014 preached by Revd Joel Love

Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus were political refugees or ‘asylum seekers’, on the run from a tyrant who wanted to annihilate them. Every year hundreds of thousands of people try to make their way into Europe from oppressive regimes in Africa and the Middle East. Some of them are victims of economic injustices from which we benefit massively, while others have suffered under tyrannical governments which we have supported and to which we have sold weapons. We now know that the Maltese army has been deliberately sinking boats full of refugees — including refugees from Palestine and Syria — to stop them from making landfall inside the EU. And why have they been doing this? Because the UK and other EU member states have begun refusing to take refugees entering Europe in this way. In October 2014, our government decided to cut funding for Mediterranean migrant rescue operations altogether.

Perhaps when we hear politicians talk about ‘controlling’ or ‘reducing’ immigration to the UK, we should spare a thought for Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus seeking asylum from another massacre in the Middle East.

But this still isn’t really close enough to home for those of us sitting in thes pews today. Because we are all guilty of the same kinds of anger, greed, and, lust for power that led Herod to destroy the lives of children ‘two years old or under’. Of course, we may not express these feelings in the same way. But we are capable of doing great damage to one another and to innocent bystanders, especially children. Other names for this are ‘sin’ and ‘selfishness’ and this is precisely why we need the good news of Jesus. Because, like national governments, we too must repent of our sin and selfishness, and humble ourselves to receive the forgiveness that only Jesus can give us.

It was Jesus, after all, who was nailed to a cross as an innocent man, yet cried out a prayer for his persecutors: ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). As St Paul says, ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’ (1 Cor. 1:27).

And this is why ‘there is hope for our future’, as Jeremiah prophesied (Jer. 31:17). Amen