Sunday, January 03, 2016

Sermon; 2 Christmas; Matthew 2:1-12

“When the wicked want to do serous harm, they paint treachery in the color of humility.”
An anonymous work on Matthew

There is no doubt that Herod was wicked.  I’ve gone over some of his antics before, so I won't do so again.  But I will remind you that news of the Messiah's birth posed a serious threat to the power of Herod, or so he thought.  This new king might strip him of his power and leave him on the street.  Sixteen hundred years before Macbeth would show us, Herod was a living example that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

When Herod heard the news that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, his only thought was how he could eliminate him.  Of course, this isn't something you announce to your guests.  So he instead enlisted the help of the visiting magi as unsuspecting accomplices.  I imagine him sounding very much like the Grinch explaining to CindyLou Who why he was taking her Christmas tree when he told the wise men, “You go and find him there, then come back here so that I may also go there and worship him.”

Herod's plan, of course, was to utilize the knowledge and skills of his visitors to learn where this new king was, not in order to worship him or pay him homage, but to eliminate him.  Herod wanted to silence this person who threatened his grip on power.  Herod couldn't afford to allow this person to have a voice, so Herod tried to keep him quiet forever.

Herod painted his treachery in the form of humility.  Feigning interest and concern, he was only interested in silencing that which would reduce is power, no matter the cost.

This is so over-the-top that we may think it's reserved for only the most evil people in the world – Herod, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Stalin, Lex Luthor, the Joker.  But this behavior happens every day all over the world.  From men in southeast Asia coerced onto fishing boats and forced into a type of slavery and silence, to young women and girls abducted into the sex trade, and all sorts of things in between – some expected and some unexpected.

Joelene and I spent last weekend in Bandon.  The weather was awful – windy and rainy, but any day at the beach is a good day.   One night I was channel surfing (because it was warmer than whale watching) and came across a CNN special called, “The Hunting Ground.”  It was all about sexual abuse and rape on college campuses.  Having a daughter of that age, we watched.  And it was horrifying.

What made it horrifying to me wasn't the number of reported rapes/abuses, but the number of men punished.  What made it horrifying was the manner in which those men were punished.  What made it horrifying was how the perpetrators were treated in comparison to the victims.

Of the hundreds of rapes reported, less than ten men were punished.  Types of punishment included expulsion from the university – after graduation; writing a paper on his experience of the event; and taking a mandatory class on women's studies.  Many, if not all, of the universities being investigated had in their procedure manual/student hand book sections directed to men with headings such as, “What to do if you are accused of sexual abuse,” “How to protect yourself if you are accused of sexual abuse,” “Where to find legal counsel,” and, “Where to find support in your difficult time.”

In short, all of the resources for a support network, help lines, or other resources were made available to the accused, while nothing was provided for the victims of rape and/or abuse.

Women who made their rape public were sent threatening texts and emails.  They were labeled sluts and whores.  They were asked for theirs sisters names and contact information.  At Yale, A sorority was surrounded at night by a bunch of male students chanting, “No means Yes.  Yes means . . .”  I won't repeat that last one.  Charges made against athletes, especially football or basketball players, were ignored or dropped “for lack of evidence.”  And the women who were brave enough to come forward were themselves charged in the court of public opinion of trying to ruin a man's life.

In all of this, one message is clear: Do not upset the power structure and keep silent.  The power structure will keep women silent by ignoring them and burying their complaints so far down a rabbit hole that very few, if anybody, will know about it.  The power structure will keep women silent by making things so difficult for them that many will simply not report the crime.  The power structure will keep women silent by ignoring them and not providing resources so that some women feel the only solution to their situation is to commit suicide.

All of this is painted with beautiful words that feign interest for the outside world.  We are told over and over that universities take sexual abuse issues seriously.  We are shown graphs that indicate almost zero campus rapes/attacks proving that there is not a problem.  And we are told universities do all in their power to protect victims.

The reality is something else entirely.

Unfortunately this is not the only place this happens.  Anytime those in power use their power to protect themselves and silence those who threaten them, the ghost of Herod is alive and well.  Anytime women, minorities, the poor, or any non-majority person or group is silenced, we are in danger of committing the same crime as Herod – actively putting an end to those who might upset the power structure that we are comfortable with.

Today's gospel is difficult for us to hear, because just under the surface story of visitors bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, is a story of treachery and death.  In today's gospel we hear the beginnings of serious harm done under the color of humility.  We need to pay attention to this gospel and have the courage to speak up for those who have been silenced by a power structure designed to protect its own interests.

The gospel of Christ is not meant to be used to keep people oppressed and living in darkness, it is meant to lift people up and bring them into the light.  And sometimes we need to hear stories about the treachery of the darkness to remind us what that looks like.



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