"Suffer the little children." At the outset, let me say that I am no "Scrooge"! I love Christmas. I love the lead up to Christmas: the dreary days of November, the lights of Advent, the Christmas carols and songs on the radio, Christmas Eve and a packed church, and the "ahhh" after the last service is done and the stockings hung. But Christmas, as many of you may not realize, is not the time leading up to the "big day"—that period of time is Advent. No, the season of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve and ends on January 6. These are the 12 days of Christmas.
So, I thought I'd reflect on that shortest of church seasons, and one day in particular: December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Yay.
I have been wracking my United Church sentiments to find a (witty and progressive) way to address this but I have not been successful. The assigned readings for the day come from the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 49, which speaks of God's mind set upon us, as a mother is upon her children. I stick to the heart-rending words of Isaiah: "The Lord has forsaken me … I will not forget you."
The readings for the day continue in Matthew where he utters his famous words: "Suffer the little children to come unto me ..." and I bristle with Jesus as he admonishes his followers not to place a "stumbling block" (Greek: skandalon, from which we get the word scandal) before these "little ones."
I know, I know, there are those who, in their textual analysis remind us that it is not to actual children Jesus is referring but rather the "little ones" who are his followers. But again—like the PaRDeS system of biblical exegesis—one is allowed a little literal leeway.
And I find myself in early December (as I write these words) wishing to thunder at all who, as the Coventry Carol intones:
Herod the King In his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might In his own sight
All children young to slay
It brings to mind the parallel in stories (found in the biblical book of Exodus) of the slaughter of the Hebrew children and how Moses escaped by being placed in a reed basket and found by Pharoah's daughter. It also, interestingly brings to mind how Moses, later in life, witnessed God's Angel of Death slaying the Egyptian First Born. And how many times, throughout history, have the Innocents paid the price for fall human depravity. I need not compile a list as I neither have the time, the space nor the stomach to do so.
Yet, I would like to tangentially move on. In a recent paper on teenage depression, the recent spike in reports of teen depression, suicide attempts and similar mental illnesses has been linked to "screen time." I think we all see it in ourselves as adults, but what seems to be a dark cloud behind this is the loss of REAL human contact: friends and family. Even Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods attributes many of the modern mental illnesses to our lack of time spent in nature and together.
Are we laying down stumbling blocks to the children and youth in our lives? Instead of inscribing the names of our God's beloved daughters and sons on the palms of our hands are they tightly clamped around names like Apple, Samsung, Google? Have we, in the sin of needing to be liked, given up our rightful authority as parent and adult to say to children: "NO! Put away the smart-phone and go outside and play with your friends?"
One of the greatest Christmas presents I ever received was a wooden toboggan from Santa. Apparently he needed to outsource his toboggan making to "The Bay." I still have that toboggan and I still use it, as I used it when I was a kid. And I used it with my kids.
The pocket electronic football game? Gone. The Commodore 64? Trashed. The Palm Pilot? Obsolete.
If getting away from screen-time might mitigate self-harm in teens and youth, then let us do it. And we'll probably be the better for it, given the shape (literal and metaphorical) of UCC clergy. We are generally overweight and underactive. Let's do what we can to keep wholly Innocent. Merry Christmas.
Isaiah 49: 14-16
But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me."
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands …