Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 29 December 2019.
I once asked an older priest about how Christian faith in the UK had collapsed as a general national spiritual base.
His reply went back to the aftermath of WW1 and those who came home, and those who did not. The towns that had sent off the battalions of ‘pals’ – young men who were friends and had been at school together – who went into battle together. Many such towns had seen a whole generation of young men wiped out.
If one young man came home then the street he lived in kept its faith, but if none came back, then faith in that street collapsed under the shared grief.
So where was God? Why did He allow this to happen? Well, I do not think that fighting WW1 (or WW2 for that matter) was his idea. Neither were the organization, strategy or tactics.
But the question of where was God goes back at least to the Massacre of the Innocents and long before that as well.
The easy and rather facile answer is to say that God caused the evil and is responsible for it.
But no, God did not create evil – for the essence of evil is the rejection of the will and the person of God. It is to turn away, deliberately and with determination, never desiring to come back into His love.
For in this sense evil is the rejection of God. If the nature and character of God is moral and spiritual, and if the foundation of the universe and the principles of physics, chemistry and biology that give it coherence are God-created, then rejection of God as a person is potentially a defiance of the laws or principles of science as well as of morality.
And indeed science has been perverted to contrive weapons and devices of hideous levels of destructive ability.
But there is another side to this question for despite the nature and the scale of the human rebellion, God has nevertheless taken the blame for it all. For that is precisely what the incarnation of God in Jesus is about. Nothing less.
God came to us in order to bring us back to Him. He had come freely, for only a free and willing offering would be of any use.
God came in wholly and purely human terms for the whole of the moral and spiritual conflict was taking place in the human sphere. The atonement would also have to be carried out in the human sphere.
It would have to be a perfect and unsoiled sacrifice for only this would be recognizable in the sight of the holiness and purity of God. Only this could provide an acceptable form of substitution and only God could provide it.
And so Jesus came to render complete and total atonement for the sins and rebellions of all, including the most grievous – Herod, Judas Iscariot, and we all have our own favourite additions.
So yes, God did accept the blame, even for the innocents who died under the orders of Herod, at Jesus’ birth.
For many the question of justice still forces itself to the front. But it also begs a question: what do we mean by justice? Whose justice are we talking about? Justice for what?
For example, nobody questions that the children abused physically, emotionally and sexually by those with power over them should be given justice.
For some, to be accused is in itself to be guilty. But then what about those with even less opportunity for defense?
At least the abused children have their lives in them, even if crippled and twisted for life.
But what about those with no defense, and put to death for the convenience of their mothers – or their fathers? What about the aborted, who we are told are not persons and so have no rights? Does this rationalization of a guilty conscience really add up?
When Jesus gave Himself to the betrayer, the denier, the accusers, the scourgers and the crucifiers, He did so in the sight of the justice and mercy of God.
It was not so that we might rationalize our own guilt and so contrive our own justification.
It certainly was not so that we might imagine or contrive our own form of moral code in which we might find others guilty and yet excuse and acquit ourselves.
It is easy to make out that just because we do not have the blood of the innocents of Bethlehem, then we are accepted in the sight of God.
But then in Jesus God came to save us not only from our sins but also from our excuses, our rationalizations and our evasions.
So yes, God was there when the innocents of Bethlehem were being slaughtered. Yes, He was grieving, then as now, over the massacre of the defenseless. It is easy to blame Herod – but what about a social and legal culture that permits the same thing today?