We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray,
into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and
establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
On this fourth day of Christmas, the Church is reminded that not everything is happy-happy joy-joy in the world, at the time of Jesus' birth and otherwise. For today, we remember Herod's rage against a "newborn king," his fury at the wise men for having let their wisdom lead them on a different route home, and his answer to kill and destroy all the youngest children in Bethlehem in order to avert having a rival. It was brutal, state-sanctioned murder of innocents that left dead bodies and families mourning with unspeakable grief. This is the world into which Christ was born: a place and a time when tyrants preyed upon the weak because they had the power to do so.
And this is the time and the place where we are today. Not much has really changed from Herod's time. Perhaps the means of a tyrant exercising the power has shifted slightly. Maybe they aren't wearing Roman helmets and spearing babies to death. But there is still brutality and attacks on the innocents happening all over the world. And plenty of people sitting by and being like Saul at Stephen's death: silently complicit, and maybe, in some cases, secretly approving of the violence being wrought upon others.
I cannot come to this day in the calendar and not be bothered to my core about yesterday's news that Uganda has finally passed its hate-filled legislation to imprison people based on their same-sex sexual orientation...with the blessing of the Anglican Church of Uganda. I cannot come to this day in the calendar knowing that the world audience will have their eyes on the Stochi Olympics in Russia while President Vladimir Putin persecutes gays and lesbians, and bans the distribution of life-affirming literature to LGBTQI kids in Russia. I cannot come to this day in the calendar and not see the face of Eric Ohena Lembembe of Cameroon, murdered in his home for being gay.
Lembembe, a former journalist turned gay rights and AIDS activist, was supposed to show up for a meeting that he had called. He never appeared, and he wasn't answering his phone for two days. Finally, friends went to his house, which was still padlocked. But through the window of his bedroom they saw his limp and lifeless body. He'd had his neck and feet broken, and his body had been burned with an iron. Cameroonian officials have done nothing about this. After all, it is a crime, punishable for up to five years in prison, to be lesbian or gay in Cameroon. Same thing for Nigeria. And Kenya. And Senegal. Gay and lesbian Africans are at risk every day. And when a major world power, such as Russia, amps up the volume on homophobia and western world mega-church leaders in this country funnel money and support to prop up the anti-gay policies in these nations, we become a party to the destruction of today's Holy Innocents.
I also think about the kids in the Gay-Straight Alliance at Leon High School. I am deeply saddened and angered when I hear that parents, who have the sole responsibility of loving their children, can be so hostile to their kids by calling them names and demanding that they be someone who they are not. Such rejection is the path toward death, not life. And too often, it's those children who become part of that statistic of 40-percent of the homeless teenage population, or the next child who we are burying because she took her own life out of the desperation to escape from being hated.
On this day, we remember how a bully slaughtered the innocent and defenseless. The reading from Matthew assigned for this morning was Christ using a child as an example of how to approach God and the kingdom of heaven. Woe to those who place a stumbling block before one of these, he warns. Such an ominous message is still needed for the tyrants of today. You who will allow for killing, imprisonment, torture, degradation, and oppression of anyone may feel that you are the all-powerful now. But your day is coming.