Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fr Tefft's powerful sermon on Rachel weeping for her children

Father Alexander Tefft is the priest at the Antiochian Orthodox Parish of Saint Botolph, London, U.K., as well as Chaplain and Tutor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge. Here is his sermon from last Sunday. 

Those who sought the child’s life are dead (Matthew 2:20).

So many ways of doing it. A soft sob, a howl in the night, when the shadow in the closet moves. A formless face, looking in at the window. At last, only the whimper. As the fever mounts, his forehead burns. ‘Let him cry through the night’, you tell yourself. Your father could take it. So could you. So shall he. ‘You don’t want him growing up into a cowardly weakling, do you?’ So many ways of doing it. When your little girl dresses up in her pink chiffon tutu and fairy wings, dancing around the room, you call her … ‘fat’. ‘Ugly’. Tears? ‘I’ll give you tears!’. Take her dolly. Her Cuddle Kitty. Throw it out the window of a moving vehicle. Twist her puppy’s leg. Make it … whimper. Right there, in front of her eyes. ‘That’ll teach you’, you tell her, ‘to spill porridge on Daddy’s suit’. A father disciplines his child. Who is going to complain? So many ways of doing it. Creep up, to a little girl’s room. After dark. Run your hand under the covers. In between her legs. No one will tell. No one wants to know. ‘It’s Christmas time!’ So many ways of doing it. When a little boy gets out of line, smack him. A father’s right. So it has always been, so it shall always be. In our changing times, a few old traditions remain. Knock some sense into his soft .. skull. Hold his hand over the burner, until he – ‘learns’. But for all that – ‘discipline’ – nothing beats strolling to school one bright winter’s morn, with a new Bushmaster XM-15 rifle in hand. Letting rip. Room to room. Body to body.

Most hunters take down ducks. Maybe deer. You take down twenty whining ‘brats’. Age six. Age seven. Too bad, none of them age two. They scream louder.

So many ways of doing it. So many ways … of killing a child.

A child psychologist, trained in the Soviet East Bloc, hems and haws, eventually yawns, at a documentary film about a boy. A little boy, separated from his mother. A soft sob, a howl. Eventually, little hands yanking at the bars of his cage. ‘Weakling’, she mutters, as her fingers twist around a strand of ash-blonde hair. ‘A coward’, she laughs. A laugh, as hard and cold and formless as her face. Herod the King has many faces. A hard face, a square-jaw, jutting straight ahead like a US Marine – as a baby, burning up with a fever, sobs himself to sleep. A cold face, icy eyes twinkling with ridicule, happy to tear apart a child’s dreams and throw her toy into the street. A face, blood-shot with rage, gratified to cripple an animal – or mangle a child. Catching its tears, holding its little hand right over a raging flame. A father’s right – to discipline his child; a king’s, to ‘discipline’ his people. So it always been, so it shall always be. Old king, old ways. A few old ‘traditions’, constant in  changing times. The right to bear arms; the right of a ‘manly’ hand to strike. Like moth to flame, many a rock-ribbed ‘conservative’ has made his home in our Orthodox Church. A bastion of old values, old ways. The rights of the father to do as he sees fit with his own. But let every Herod beware, lest he singe his wings on a Divine Flame.

Wherever an abuser hides, there is Herod. Wherever Herod hides, there is … the Child.

Old Herod. A bitter blue-haired puppet of Rome. Son of the desert. A leathery old face, toughened by wind and sun and seventy years of climbing the ladder. Out of the narrow slits of his enclosed palace, he surveys the hills and valleys of Judea and says –- ‘Mine’. Mine, all that I see. And beyond? ‘Weaklings, weaklings and cowards’, the old king tells himself. ‘Scum from the mongrel north, up north, in Galilee. Refugees, from this war or that, pushing and shoving at my borders’. Clutching his power, like a stolen jewel, Herod fears no one. No one – that is, except … a baby boy. Born in a town. Called Bethlehem.

Those magicians from Persia called him a king. ‘Now they’ve run off’, the old man whines. One thing left to do. My right – to “discipline” my own’.

One bright winter’s morn. While the men of Bethlehem are tending flocks in the valleys, a soldier seen on the horizon draws a sword. Then another. Still, another. A mother tries to hide her baby under a feeding trough. Another carries her son to the roof-top. In vain. Cradles run red with blood. A soldier twists a child’s leg. Makes it ‘whimper’. Right there, in front of his mother’s eyes. Little hands, yanking at the bars of a window. Chopped off, at the wrist. A woman leans against the lintel of a door. Silent. Her eyes, wide open and glazed. In her arms, a white bundle, stained with red. A child who will never grow up, fall in love … or learn that the shadow in the closet was only a bad dream.

Rachel weeps for all her murdered children down the centuries. But strike as his ‘manly’ hand will, burn up with fury as his blood-shot eye may, Herod never finds … the Child. Until a disease eats away his face, Old Man Herod lives in fear of that one Child. Son of refugees, mongrel scum of Galilee. A New Year that the Old can never destroy.

He whose Nativity sanctifies every neglected, abused, butchered, betrayed child. White, surrounding the martyrs’ red. He whose mere Birth consigns every Herod to the flames.

Beloved in Christ: there are so many ways of killing a child. A little life, reaching for your arms. Wanting only – to be held. Protected. Kept warm from the winds of human cruelty. Loved, as every one, made in the image of the Life-giving Trinity, longs only to be loved. ‘A father’s right’, claim the abusers, ‘to do with my own, as I see fit’. Indeed, so says the father of lies. ‘A king’s right – a bishop’s, a priest’s’, say the tyrants, ‘to drain what I want from the cold sweat of a living soul. To twist and turn and take’. So the abusers boasts. So it has always been. So shall it always be. Until now.

This day, the strong are toppled and weak raised up. This day, some nameless, faceless little boy – two years or one, six months or only one hour old – is mightier than the face that neglects, the hands that hurt, the blade that mows him down like wheat.

Because, by his death in Bethlehem, one Child lives.

Behind his formless face in hell, old Herod rages against the one thing he fears: a Child. But those who sought the Child’s life are eternally dead – while those who love this Child are eternally alive.


jdwoods76 said...

Fr David,
Thank you for posting this sermon. I hope more leaders realize that being too polite and unwilling to take evil seriously can make the figure of a Shepherd or King of kings irrelevant and pointless.

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