There has been a certain amount of joking on social media about the week between Christmas and New Year’s – people claiming to forget what day it is, what they are supposed to be doing – fueled by leftover cheese and cookies. As I went to church yesterday, my heart was also in a disoriented space. It was not anything our church did or did not do, and it wasn’t induced by left over cheese, rather, by reflecting on the liturgical space the Sunday after Christmas day occupies.

It is the practice of many congregations to have a “low-key” Sunday after Christmas Eve to let the staff and volunteers relax a bit because, let’s face it, we all deserve it. But something gets lost when we forget the richness of liturgical life between Christmas day (December 25th) and Epiphany (January 6th). In many traditions this not-quite-Christmas and not-quite-Epiphany Sunday and the liturgy it brings, can get overlooked, practically and morally. If you would read Matthew 2:16-18, one of the scriptures offered for this week, you would read an uncomfortable few verses recounting Herod’s infanticide in Bethlehem, and you would find the Holy Family, as they have come to be known, narrowly escaping this wrath because of a dream that came to Joseph.

I get it – no one wants to think about the systemic killing of infants and toddlers in any context, let alone hear it from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. What we must remember, however, is that this is included in our scriptures and in our liturgy for a reason.

This story in our beautiful, sacred, subversive, tradition turns our attention toward how empire reacts to radical love, and has implications on our lives today. What we miss when we don’t turn our attention toward the uncomfortable, is our opportunity to recognize injustice in our world. We often allow our discomfort and our privilege to turn us away from the suffering of others, and this story brings our attention back.

Yes, Jesus was born an infant, a bundle of pure innocent love, but his birth caused such a threat to power dynamics, that governments and institutions trembled in fear (and still do.) We must use this time to remember that enacting the love we were gifted on Christmas day, worshiping this baby, carrying his light into the world, sometimes calls us to forsake institutions that his radical love threatens so deeply.

Rev. Bruce Epperly  of the United Church of Christ, further articulates the significance of this story in a recent blog post. He writes: 

“The Massacre of Infants awakens us to the vision of God with us, embracing the pain of the world and inspiring us to care for the vulnerable of all ages, especially the children of the world. It promises that we will experience joy and fulfillment by opening our hearts and hands to the infants and children of the world. It inspires us to certain practices of caring support for the infants and children of this good earth. It also reminds us that political involvement can be the source of healing as well as suffering, and that we cannot claim to be innocent bystanders but must respond as citizens when our own government is complicit in evil.”[1]

Just a few weeks ago, Claremont United Methodist Church displayed a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus in separate, chain-link cages topped with barbed wire. Baby Jesus is wrapped in a Mylar blanket. The message on the podium reads: “What if this family sought refuge in our country today?”

A few folks from our congregation asked me what I thought of it, and I began in each instance by citing our United Methodist Social Principles which state: “We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God… We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of family with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”[2] 

I wonder if our own culture, churches – the way we order our society is becoming the very institution which Jesus’ birth threatened? And if so, what is our response? Jesus did not come to redeem instructions. Jesus was born powerless to demonstrate God’s love of the powerless. Jesus died not because he was plotting an insurrection, but because he was a threat to the empire.

If it comes to choosing the comfort that the institution affords or following my Savior, I hope that I always have the courage to follow my Savior, even when he was a refugee child fleeing with his family from the oppressor.  

This post was co-authored by Senior Pastor, Rev. Anna Guillozet and Membership & Outreach Director, Shelby Elliott


[1] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2019/12/tragedy-and-beauty-at-christmas-the-massacre-of-the-innocents/

[2] 2016 Book of Discipline, Social Principles ¶162.H