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Mission Devotional - December 28, 2016

Opening Prayer: Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart, and give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, wisdom and understanding, Lord, that I may carry out your holy and true command. Amen. - St. Francis of Assisi

Scripture: Matthew 2:12-23

Journal: What do you do with these verses from Matthew's gospel? Is there a weeping or mourning that you are being asked to endure during this season? What is it? How are you bearing it? Where is God in the midst of it?

Reflection: It is the constant fear of every tyrant that somewhere, perhaps in an obscure village, perhaps at that very moment, there is a baby born who will one day signal the end of his power. According to the Gospel of Matthew, this fear was realized for King Herod when wandering wise men from the East came to Jerusalem asking, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?"

By all accounts, Herod was a man of extreme brutality. He conceived of a simple plan: Rather than sit and wait anxiously for the day of reckoning with this future "king," why not simply kill the babe before he could grow and pose a threat? But when the wise men failed to cooperate with his plan, Herod simply ordered his troops to the village of Bethlehem, there to kill every male child under the age of two. The order was given, and it was dutifully carried out.

But the reader knows, as Herod does not, that the massacre is pointless. Joseph, forewarned in a dream, has taken his family into exile in Egypt. The child lives.

This terrible story, omitted from the typical Christmas pageant, is a vivid reminder of the violent world into which Jesus was born. There were certainly those for whom the coming of the Messiah represented anything but good news. Did Jesus at some point learn the story of his birth and of the children who had perished in his place? If so, that chapter in his education is reserved for the "hidden years," beyond the scope of the Gospel narratives. From the early centuries, however, the church has commemorated the feast of these Holy Innocents. Unlike traditional martyrs who would later die bearing witness to Christ, these little ones died unwittingly in the place of Christ. They were killed by the same interests that would later conspire in the death of Jesus and for the same reasons - to stifle from birth any hope that the world might be changed.

In our own time whole villages have been massacred on the basis of similar reports: "In such-and-such-a-hamlet the peasants have formed a cooperative… It is well known where this is likely to lead… Advise that appropriate action be taken before the danger spreads."

The feast of the Holy Innocents is not simply a memorial to those who died before their time. These infants represent all those cut down to prevent the seed of liberation from taking root and growing. They are those who die in the dream of a different future, hoping but never knowing that their redeemer lives. In remembering the feast of the Holy Innocents the church commemorates these victims of Herod's rage. But it also celebrates his failure.

His power is doomed. The child lives. (All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time by Robert Ellsberg)

Prayer for the church, for others, for myself

Mostafa and Mona Sharkawy's main area of work is the U.K., serving among Arab Muslims. Their goals are to see Arabic churches arise from Muslim background believers, to see new generations of leaders from Muslim believers, and to teach and prepare them for future ministry. Pray today for the Sharkawys and their work with local Arab Muslims.

Cedar Springs partners with Compassion Coalition is to inform, prepare, and unite churches to transform lives and communities through the love of Christ. They strive to walk alongside Knoxville-area churches who earnestly desire to slow down and respond to the cry of the suffering, the broken, and the abandoned within their congregations and out in the community. Pray today for the work of this ministry in Knoxville and for Executive Director Grant Standefer.

Closing Prayer: Lord God, what a hard reminder that things are never neat and tidy in this life, but often messy and painful. We cannot escape the pain and brokenness of this life no matter how hard we try. There is no way out, only through. Thank you that you are that way through. In you there is hope that one day all things will be redeemed, even the evil of our own hearts. Lord, have mercy! Amen. (Watch and Wait by Jim Branch)