Thursday, December 28, 2006

Feast of the Holy Innocents and Ann Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

I started to read Ann Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt today, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28 ( on the Catholic church calendar). Rice’s bestseller starts with Jesus telling the story of an incident in Alexandria, Egypt, which had occurred when he was only 7 years old. In the episode, Jesus explains that, almost by accident, he kills a neighbor boy—a neighborhood bully, that is.

Let me explain, the 7-year old Jesus and his friends were playing a game—maybe like an ancient form of American football or Annie-Aye-Over. During the game, the much-large bully, named Eleazor, charges the young Jesus of Mary and Joseph. Jesus says to him, “You’ll never get where you are going.” [p. 3]

Immediately, the Bully Eleazor falls down in his tracks—dead. Naturally, there is an uproar in the neighborhood. The other kids and soon their parents are shouting, “He’s dead … He’s dead!” [p. 4]

Naturally, a few pages later, the young Jesus has visited the home of Eleazor’s family and he reaches out and touches the dead boy. Immediately, as Jesus relates, the Bully Eleazor jumps up and starts to pummel Jesus. While he is swinging away and jumping on the smaller Jesus, Eleazor over and again shouts, like a prophet of old, these three words, “Son of David.”

Anyone who has read Matthew 2:13 through 2:18 knows why and how Jesus and his carpenter family had ended up in Egypt. The explanation is found in the tale of how King Herod of Israel felt threatened by the birth of the King of Kings in lowly Bethlehem. After receiving word from the lord in a dream, Jesus’ father Joseph takes the family to Egypt.

That is why Ann Rice starts to tell her novel in Egypt. Later, in Matthew 2, we read that Joseph brings the family back to live in Israel—namely to Nazareth.

Importantly, Ann Rice, the author of this novel on Jesus’s life after Egypt, begins her narration by noting that earthly politics and social economics effect Jesus’family in Alexandria, too—just as they had in Israel. Within the first few pages, it is clear that others in the neighborhood in Egypt are jealous of the carpentry success of Jesus’ father, Joseph.

Joseph had recently won a lot of good contracts and the neighboring contractors, including the bullying boy Eleazor’s father, seek to use the incident of Jesus accidentally killing the bully as part of as a smear campaign to get other businessmen and families in Alexandria to stop dealing with Joseph’s (currently successful) family business as carpenter. In short, the actions of children can affect families.

I am writing you today as a member of the human family today and wish to return to Matthew 2 and remind you of how we are to treat children—an issue at Jesus’heart.

MEMORIES OF FEASTS OF HOLY INNOCENTS

In the narration of Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ escape to Egypt in Matthew chapter 2, one learns of the tragic consequences of Herod’s political gambit to rid his kingdom of the Son of God or Messiah/Christ.

Like the Pharaoh in Egypt who ordered the execution of children in the time of Moses, Herod has all the boys under the age of 2-years killed in the land of Israel. This is the horrible event that the Catholic calendar date December 28 recognizes. Interestingly, this solemn occasion is given the positive sounding title: “Feast of the Holy Innocents”.

I recall the first time I ever actually celebrated the FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS. It was during my first years (1983-1984) in Europe while living and working on farms in France and Germany as an Intermenno Trainee (part of a work-homestay program organized with help of the Mennonite Churches in Europe). At the end of 1983, I had gone to Rome to see the Midnight Christmas Eve Mass led by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. It was a blessing and I felt like I had enjoyed the mass with kings—and I had: King Juan Carlos of Spain had been sitting only two rows in front of me.

However, by 5am that Christmas morning, I was sitting on a train for Switzerland, and I eventually made my way to the home of a Lutheran minister and his wife near Stuttgart. This religious couple, like many European citizens in autumn 1983, were very concerned with the possibility that a war might break out between East and West as a large number of nuclear war heads were being deployed across the continent at that time. [This is not unlike the tension I feel in Kuwait and my family in America (and Egypt) feel today when we note another set of wars and nuclear weapons stress taking place in the Middle East today, in 2003.]

By the way, I, myself, had already just been to Stuttgart in late October 1983--holding hands with the 240,000-plus peoples between Ulm and Stuttgart Germany one Saturday to protest the deployment of new nuclear weapons on the continent. However, I had not met this Lutheran minister and his wife at that junction.

Nonetheless, while at one of the peace demonstrations and during information sessions that weekend, I had received a few flyers about a planned demonstration at Vaihangen Air Force Base scheduled on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. I had decided that I would try my best to attend that ecumenical meeting of Christians and to let my voice be heard.

At the Lutheran couples home on Christmas night, I met a group of Peace Pilgrims who had just flown back from their months-long Peace Walk to Jerusalem. (In September 1983, the U.S. military had lost over 220 soldiers in Lebanon, where civil war was raging after an Israelis invasion the year before—otherwise the Peace Marchers would have walked the whole stretch by land to Israel via Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. However, the fighting had forced the Pilgrims to take a boat from Greece in order to bypass another slaughter of innocents in Lebanon that autumn 1983.) The next day there was a tremendous Concert in one of the great Lutheran structures in Stuttgart. The pacifist Peace Pilgrims and I attended the concert together. The following days, there were preparations made for the demonstration, including interviews with local and international press.

That somber musical program in the Lutheran church on the Second Christmas Day was the lead-on to a lot of news stories on the march at Vaihingen Air Force Base to mark the FEAST OF THE HOLY INNONCENTS that winter 1983. Sadly, some newspapers simply made fun of the Pilgrims and their ideals, i.e. trying to March for Peace--in Europe, during strife in the Middle East, and nuclear tensions throughout the Cold War world.

Since many of the Peace Pilgrims had studied in the religious and non-violent training center of Taize in France, one of the strongest pacifists in the group, a women, was simply mislabeled “Joanne D’arc” by the newspapers. They did this simply because of her blonde hair and because she was the only female pilgrim undertaking the Peace March to and from Jerusalem that year. They ignored the fact that she took no sword in hand but simply felt called by God to work and march for peace.

Despite the great derision shown in the local German and international media, more than a thousand people showed up at the Vaihangen Air Force Base on that December 28, 1983. Some, including the Lutheran minister’s wife, were prepared to be arrested for crossing to the fence directly at the base entrance to hand symbols of peace there.

These thousand were not only prepared to commemorate the Feast of the Holy Innocents by protesting the world’s leaders’ blind faith and usage of national moneys to support the global arms build-up of the Reagan-Breschnev eras, they set out to share many others symbols of peace and childhood. They sought not just to protest but to paint a positive picture of the world when the militaries would not take money from the world’s poorest and least powerful citizens—its children.

This Lutheran couple, whom had served in Indonesia as missionaries in the 1960s before the Suharto massacres had killed nearly a million Indonesians in that poor archipelago (mostly in the name of Cold War), had been collecting letters from children around the globe to hang on the fence of that Vaihangen military base for several months. Similarly, children’s toys were donated and collect for the occasion of FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS.

These toys and other symbols of childhood were also hung up with the children’s letters asking for peace on the fences of that base U.S. military base that day as all of the participant marchers took turns commemorating the lives and deaths of children on that Feast of the Holy Innocents.

In short, like Joshua and the trumpets (and our trumpets were certainly only children’ toys that December 28, 1983), we marched around the base at Vaihangen and prayed for an end to the insane arms race that would soon cripple the Soviet Union and leave Bushites and Reaganites in charge of U.S. foreign policy and military planning for decades to come. (In other words, the combined Reagan and Bushes’military buildups have impoverished children in America and left starving & undereducated billions of lttle-ones around the globe over the past 25-plus years. For this, we need to continue to mourn this December 28.)

For this reason, I ask you all to commemorate this Feast of the Holy Innocents by searching for a way to help children—maybe donate to an orphanage, a school or some other institution around the world. ( I just donated to an orphanage through HOPE Worldwide in Indonesia.) Or, feel free to commit yourself to be a volunteer tutor or big brother/big sister to a needy child as soon as possible.

Stand up and say “NO” to complacency and “YES” to Peace in 2007. By marching for peace and focusing on education and peace activities, we can bring down more walls than either Joshua did in the old testament or the East Germans did in 1989—i.e. when their peaceful demonstrations mimicked our cries for Justice, Human Rights, and Human Development back on December 28, 1983 in Vaihangen, Germany.

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