From Bethlehem to Rosewood

From Bethlehem to Rosewood

Sunday, January 1, 2023
| Matthew 2:13-23

As Christians, we are challenged to see our neighbors as gifts, not threats.

Today is not a happy anniversary. Exactly 100 years ago, on January 1, 1923, the Rosewood massacre began.

Like the massacre of children in the gospel of Matthew, Rosewood reminds us of the devastating impact of violence, especially on the most vulnerable members of our communities.

Rosewood was a quiet and mostly African American town in Florida. According to the History website, it was originally settled by both black and white people, and the main industry was the production of pencils. But when the cedar tree population declined, most of the white people moved to the nearby town of Sumner. By the 1920s, Rosewood’s population was about 200 blacks, plus one white family that ran the general store.

On January 1, 1923, a young white woman in Sumner, Fannie Taylor, was found covered in bruises. She claimed that a black man had assaulted her. Her husband, a foreman at a local mill, gathered a mob of white citizens to hunt down the assailant. He also called for help from neighboring counties, including 500 members of the Ku Klux Klan. The white mobs searched the woods for any black man they could find.

Law enforcement determined that a black prisoner named Jesse Hunter had escaped from a chain gang. They immediately made him a suspect. The mobs focused their searches on Hunter and went after black families that they believed were hiding him.

In Rosewood, one mob pulled a black man out of his house, tied him to a car, dragged him to Sumner, and beat him. Another mob tortured a blacksmith until he took them to the spot where Hunter was said to be hiding. When Hunter was not found, they shot the blacksmith and hung him in a tree.

On the night of January 4, a mob of armed white men surrounded a house in which 25 people were hiding, mostly children. Shots were fired, and a black woman and her son were killed. Two white attackers were also killed. The gun battle lasted overnight and ended when the whites broke down the door and the black children escaped into the woods.

Newspapers falsely reported that bands of armed black citizens were going on a rampage. White attackers burned down the churches of Rosewood, and then went after people in houses. Dozens died, both blacks and whites. By January 7, most of the town was burned to the ground, and the fleeing black citizens never returned.

As for Fannie Taylor, the young white woman? Some survivors believe that her bruises were inflicted by a white lover. And Jesse Hunter, the escapee from the chain gang? He was never found.

 

The Story Remains the Same

The gospel of Matthew speaks of a voice in Ramah, a city in ancient Israel. You can change the location from Ramah to Rosewood, and the verse still makes perfect sense:

A voice is heard in Rosewood, weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more (2:18).

In both ancient Israel and modern America, we know the devastating impact of violence, especially on vulnerable children and adults.

Jesus himself faced deadly violence at the very beginning of his life. Right after the wise men left Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (v. 13).

King Herod was feeling threatened by the birth of this baby who had been identified as the king of the Jews. He didn’t want any competition, even from a child who had no political or military power at his disposal. Feeling frightened and infuriated, Herod ordered a search and destroy mission to be carried out in Bethlehem.

Unfortunately, the feelings that drove Herod to violence are still alive and well. According to The Guardian, Rosewood was a prosperous black town in 1923, “with its own baseball team, a masonic temple and a few hundred residents.” A black survivor of the massacre says that whites were disturbed because they looked at Rosewood and saw a bunch of black folks “living better” than white folks.

Such resentment can lead to violence, both then and now. From Bethlehem to Rosewood, the bloody story remains the same.

Look around today, and you see resentments that can lead to violence. Many residents of “red” states resent residents of “blue” states, and vice versa. Some citizens feel threatened by immigrants, and immigrants feel anxious in the United States. Fault lines appear between members of different racial and cultural groups.

We look at the world and feel threatened, which is exactly what Herod experienced.

But what if we looked at the world and saw the presence of God?

Herod had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to welcome the baby Jesus, the one-and-only Son of God. But what he did was send his troops “to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (v. 16). He resorted to violence because he did not see Jesus as a gift from God. Instead, he saw him as a threat.

 

A Gift, Not a Threat

As followers of Jesus, we are challenged to see our neighbors as gifts, not threats. “When you meet another person,” says author and pastor John Pavlovitz, “you are coming face-to-face with a once-in-history, never-to-be-repeated reflection of the image of God. … each [is] made of God stuff. … Every single day you encounter thousands of breathing, animated thumbnails of the Divine.”

Every person you meet is God stuff. It doesn’t matter where they were born, whether they’re old or young, red or blue; your neighbors are “thumbnails of the Divine.” They are gifts, not threats. Worthy of respect, not hostility.

What a difference this makes, from Bethlehem to Rosewood.

Once we see our neighbors in this way, we are challenged to take action to protect the most vulnerable people around us. They could be special-needs adults, low-income neighbors, recent immigrants, political refugees, members of a minority group, or neighborhood children. Joseph made the decision to protect the vulnerable when he “took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod” (vv. 14-15).

Joseph lived as an immigrant in that foreign land until an angel appeared to him and said it was safe to return to Israel. Then he returned, but made a detour when he learned that the son of Herod was ruling over Judea. Instead of moving to Bethlehem of Judea, he headed north to Galilee, and there “he went and lived in a town called Nazareth” (v. 23).

This story contains so many examples of vulnerability. Jesus and his family were political refugees, immigrants, members of a minority group in Egypt, and finally Southerners who settled in the North. And just as Joseph cared for his vulnerable child and wife, we are challenged to care for the at-risk people around us.

 

How Should We Respond?

Some of the heroes of Rosewood were John Wright, the white owner of the general store, who allowed blacks to hide in his home during the massacre. Two wealthy white brothers, John and William Bryce, heard about the violence and sent a train to rescue black women and children. And, of course, many brave black women and men, including Sylvester Carrier, protected their children. A survivor of the massacre, who was a young girl at the time, says, “Cousin Sylvester snatched me and said, ‘Come here, let me save you. …’ I squeaked down between his legs.”

When we hear “weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children” (v. 18), our challenge is to respond with compassion and care. We cannot cover our eyes and ears, ignoring the violence being done around us. When Jesus grew up and saw vulnerable people around him, he “had compassion on them” (14:14). The word compassion comes from the Latin words passio and com, which literally mean “suffer” and “with.” To have compassion is to “suffer with” people, to take their pain seriously and do whatever we can to alleviate it.

Jesus showed us the way when he healed the servant of a Roman centurion (7:5-13) and helped a Canaanite woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon (15:21-28). Since he was familiar with suffering, he was never afraid to show compassion to people in need, even if they were outside of his religious or cultural group. The Letter to the Hebrews says that because Jesus “himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (2:18, NRSV).

From Bethlehem to Rosewood, from ancient Israel to 21st-century America, we need to identify with victims of racism, discrimination and violence, and take action to protect the innocent and vulnerable people around us. Joseph did this when he took Jesus and Mary to Egypt. John Wright did this when he took black residents of Rosewood into his home. Sylvester Carrier did this when he defended his home and saved the children in his care.

Today is not a happy anniversary. But maybe it is the first day in a new century of care for people in need.

—Henry Brinton and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.

 

Sources:

Glenza, Jessica. “Rosewood massacre a harrowing tale of racism and the road toward reparations.” The Guardian, January 3, 2016, www.theguardian.com.

Pavlovitz, John. If God is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2021), 171.

“Rosewood Massacre.” History, April 20, 2021, www.history.com.

 

Click here to download a ZIP file of the January-February 2023 issue as Word Docs. 

 

The Other Texts

Psalm 148

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

Let the Pots and Pans Praise the Lord! A sermon on this psalm should probably be preached in the context of the first Sunday of the year — yea, the first day of the year! As we stand on the threshold of a new year, we read a psalm in which all of the natural world, of which we mortals are also a part, is called upon to praise God. So now, let us survey our world and adopt an attitude in which we bless, consecrate and sanctify everything that comprises our lives and ask those things to praise God! The kitchen: “Let the pots and pans, silverware and china, praise the Lord!” The office: “Let our laptops and printers, tablets and smartphones praise the Lord!” The yard: “Let the garden and the flowers, the trees and shrubs, praise the Lord!” The garage: “Let this car and the beat-up old pickup, the tires and tools, praise the Lord!” In other words, the sermon should help the congregation to view their world as something dedicated and committed to God. No aspect of life is beyond God’s purview. God’s glory is everywhere. Let’s give all our hopes and dreams, all that we possess, over to God in the coming year for God’s glory.

What Does the Text Say?

Psalm 148 is a cosmic hymn of praise to a cosmic God. All of creation — animate, inanimate, celestial, terrestrial, divine, human, animal, vegetable, mineral, meteorological and mythological — is summoned in the psalm’s opening and closing words to “praise the LORD!” The locus of praise shifts from the heavenly realm (vv. 1-6) to the earthly realm (vv. 7-10), where sea monsters and “all deeps,” echoes of mythological creatures widespread in the ancient Near East, are called upon to praise the Lord. Flora, fauna and meteorological phenomena (“fire” in v. 8 probably refers to lightning) are likewise summoned to praise. The locus of praise narrows for the conclusion of the psalm (vv. 11-14), when social entities — kings, princes, rulers, old men and young children, young men and young women — are exhorted to praise “the name of the LORD” (v. 13).

Isaiah 63:7-9

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

Retrospect and Prospect. In the financial world, a prospectus “contains facts about the company (or fund), its finances, management and other information that could help investors make an informed decision” (Motley Fool). A prospectus, then, looks back, assesses the present, and offers an educated guess about the future. A few generations ago, it was not uncommon for someone to say, “That boy has prospects.” In other words, the young man has a bright future awaiting him, and anyone would be lucky to snag him. In professional sports, teams are always combing high schools and colleges looking for “prospects.” They are looking for players who “show promise,” of whom great things can be expected. In this text, the writer offers a prospectus. This is what God has done. This describes God’s relationship to us. This describes our relationship to God. We can expect this valued relationship to continue in the future. The sermon, with this as backdrop, is a prospectus for the church. It might also suggest that on a personal level, it could be helpful to write a prospectus at the end of the year. What is the state of our lives? Do we have prospects? What are they? On what basis might we say that the future looks bright? Or doesn’t?

What Does the Text Say?

In the middle of the Isaiah 63 is a communal lament that could have been lifted almost directly from the Psalter. In it, the decimated post-exilic community of the Jewish people recounts the magnalia Dei — the mighty redemptive acts of God by which the Israelites’ ancestors were delivered from bondage — and pleads for a similar deliverance from their current distress. The dynamic in the passage is retrospect as the basis for prospect. The divine name used throughout this psalm (which extends to 64:12) is the proper name for Israel’s patron deity. In contrast to the more frequent universalizing perspective of the latter chapters of Isaiah, this passage is focused quite specifically on Israel and Israel’s God. The “gracious deeds” and “praiseworthy acts” that lie in the historical background of this psalm were the deliverance from Egypt and the preservation of the Hebrews through 40 years of wilderness wandering (cf. vv. 9, 11-12). Those twin events — collectively described as “the exodus” — remained for the duration of the biblical period and beyond the defining event in Israel’s theological memory. The language in the lament is unusual in describing Israel as God’s “children” (v. 8; cf. the development of this idea in v. 16). The ordinary language to describe Israel is as God’s “people” (as in v. 14), and infantilizing language is rare in the OT, in contrast to the New Testament, where such language occurs frequently. The text at the end of verse 18 and the beginning of verse 19 is difficult, as reflected in the text note of NRSV, and the editorial decision was to place the emphasis on the contrast between the various intermediaries who regularly serve the divine, and the presence of the deity himself, presumably referring to the divine presence in the pillars of cloud and fire that led the Hebrews through the wilderness (Exodus 13).

Hebrews 2:10-18

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

Jesus, Our Older Brother. If the OT and Psalm readings are all about God, this text is a primer on Jesus. God is the Father (v. 11), and God makes Jesus as the “pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.” The “their” refers to Jesus’ younger brothers and sisters (v. 11) — us. Isn’t it typical, older siblings might agree, that they, the oldest brothers or oldest sisters, suffer from their parents’ over-zealous, over-weening and overly strict attention? After all, their parents have not done the parenting thing before. They’re really practicing on the first child. So, what did Jesus do for his brothers and sisters? Quite a lot. He only “destroyed … the devil,” that’s all (v. 14). He freed his siblings from “slavery” (v. 15). He became like his brothers and sisters “in every respect” (v. 17). He made “a sacrifice of atonement” for everyone (v. 17). The result of all of this is that because he suffered, he can help his siblings with their suffering and problems.

What Does the Text Say?

Issuing a stalwart affirmation of Jesus’ humanity, the author of Hebrews attends to the implications — for God, for Jesus and for humanity — of the fact that the Son of God became a Son of Man. The eternal Son (vv. 11-12) experienced death in order to impact all humanity and did so through God’s grace (v. 9). The remainder of chapter 2 reiterates this paradox in four different vignettes. Between God’s creation of his Son’s inheritance and his bestowal of it, God must perform another action. The author asserts that the fitting way to complete this process was for God to perfect Jesus through sufferings. In what he suffered, including his humbling and his death, Jesus was tested (v. 18). Because of the connection between suffering and testing in this verse, and because it’s God who submits his Son to suffering (v. 10), it’s best to view God as the agent of peirasqeiV as well. Consequently, “being tested” is a better rendering than “being tempted.” God tests the obedience of his Son (as he does with Abraham in 11:17), rather than tempting him to avoid death. The four pericopes of Hebrews 2 contribute to a soteriological set of ideas: God planned for Jesus to take on flesh and blood and to die (cf. 10:5-10); Jesus trusted his Father and followed through with this plan. Because he did so, humans now have an empathetic High Priest they can follow to the realm of God’s glory.

Worship Resources
Calls to Worship General

One: Gather round,

All: Young, older and in between,

One: Gather together.

All: Come from near and far,

One: Come open and expectant,

All: Create a symphony of praise,

One: A bouquet of joy,

All: And pray that God

One: Will weave us into:

All: A people of compassion,

One: A community of prayer,

All: A family of care.

One: Come, gather round.

All: Hear God’s Word,

One: Be challenged to serve,

All: And raise a voice in song.

Prayers Special Days and Times

Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday

God of mercy and compassion, weave your dream of justice into the fabric of our lives. Restore a prophetic voice to your church. Remove the scales from our eyes and lift the indifference from our hearts, so we might again raise the banner of your justice and peace for all.

In this new year, give us a new urgency and a new commitment to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and remove the scourge of racism. At the end of each day, let us hear the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers and the justice-doers, for you are the children of God.” Remind us again that it is not only our efforts but as we cooperate with you, your kingdom comes.

In the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Benedictions General

Do not be afraid. God goes with you to build bridges of reconciliation, create communities of acceptance, establish villages of compassion. Go in peace, strengthened by God’s blessing.

Music Resources

Hymns
Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine
There Is a Balm in Gilead
Take Time to Be Holy

Worship and Praise*
From the Inside Out (Hillsong Worship)
Come People of the Risen King (Getty)
Less Like Me (Williams)

*For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.

COMMENTARY

on Matthew 2:13-23

The stories of the birth of Jesus are so completely merged in the minds of most modern believers that it is rarely noted that the two gospels that speak of his birth, Matthew and Luke, tell widely divergent stories. So synthesized have these gospel accounts become that it is hard to find a Christmas pageant that does not have shepherds and wise men, stars and angels. While both Matthew and Luke provide their readers with a genealogy of Jesus (1:2-17; Luke 3:23-38) and testify to his being born in Bethlehem prior to moving to Nazareth (2:1; Luke 2:4), each presents a unique sequence of events, which, when viewed separately, reveal some interesting differences.

Luke’s gospel includes the lengthy story of John the Baptist’s birth, Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-80), the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, and Mary and Joseph’s presentation of the child Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:8-38). Rather than an angelic visit to Mary, however, Matthew describes an angel’s message to Joseph in a dream, followed by the journey of the magi in response to the appearance of the star, the magi’s conversation with Herod, their worship of the child, the slaughter of the innocents, and the holy family’s flight into Egypt, precipitated by yet another revelation to Joseph in a dream (1:18-2:23). If one consciously tries to combine the timelines of these two stories, however, problems arise.

According to Matthew, Mary and Joseph flee with Jesus to Egypt almost immediately after his birth. Yet according to Luke, they are in Jerusalem at the temple eight days after the birth, presenting Jesus for circumcision, and they journey home to Nazareth as soon as the required rituals are completed (Luke 2:22-40). According to Matthew, however, the family remains in Egypt until the death of Herod, when the third and fourth of Joseph’s dreams reveal to him that it is now safe to return with the child to Nazareth (2:19-23). The fact that Herod the Great is believed to have died in 4 B.C. has prompted many to suppose that the current placement of the birth of Christ four years after Herod’s death is an error created by ancient revisions in the calendar.

Although there is no completely satisfying way to reconcile this problem, or to completely harmonize the differences in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and early childhood, Matthew and Luke agree on the most important of their common themes: the miraculous birth of Christ, the evident fulfillment of Scripture through the details of his birth, and the careful preservation of the child and his family ensured by God during these vulnerable years.

One of the most interesting aspects of Matthew’s narrative is the prominent role of Joseph as the conduit through whom God’s messages of instruction and warning come. Four times he is visited in a dream, no doubt reminding Jewish hearers of the two great northern patriarchs of the OT, Jacob and Joseph, who often communicated with God through dreams (Genesis 28:10-22; 31:10-13; 37:5-11; 40:1-41:36). Of all these references, it is very interesting to note that like the NT Joseph, Jacob once received instructions in a dream to return home after a sojourn in a foreign country (Genesis 31:10-13; Matthew 2:19-23). While this is an interesting similarity, the connections between the OT Joseph and the NT Joseph go beyond the simple presence of dreams in both their narratives.

It is on the basis of the patriarch Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt and the subsequent settlement and captivity of the Israelites there that requires God, in the later generation of Moses, to call his son, Israel, out of Egypt again — a fact echoed by Hosea 11:1 and quoted by Matthew 2:15 in connection with the holy family’s flight. It is also Joseph the patriarch who is understood as the father of the northern kingdom tribes represented by his sons Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48). He is the child of Rachel (Genesis 30:22-24), and so his children, the members of the northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, are those same children for whom Rachel weeps when the northern kingdom falls, according to Jeremiah 31:15-16. The image of the weeping matriarch of Israel is applied to the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2:16-18, but it still evokes an image of the ruin of the house of Joseph and juxtaposes this destruction with the escape and survival of the new Messiah, protected this time by his father Joseph, in a way that the first children of Joseph were not protected.

Perhaps these echoes of the northern patriarchal traditions of the OT Joseph are sounded by Matthew because he is building toward his explanation of why Jesus was raised in the North and not in Bethlehem. According to Matthew, Joseph discovers in his fourth dream that although Herod is dead, his equally oppressive son Archelaus had been placed in charge over Judah, making that southern region too dangerous for the child Jesus. To underscore that his change of residence was preordained by God, however, Matthew invokes a prophecy which only he finds in Isaiah 11:1, declaring that Jesus’ eventual residence in the northern city of Nazareth identifies him as the messianic “branch” (Hebrew netzer) of David’s royal house.

There would have been no doubt in the minds of Jesus’ contemporaries that he was more a citizen of Galilee (viewed by many as a pagan territory, Galilee of the Gentiles) than he was of Jerusalem or Judah, where one would expect to find a messianic descendant of David. Reminding his hearers of the intimate relationship between God and David’s northern ancestor Jacob, and the northern patriarch Joseph, would have served Matthew’s rhetorical purposes well — concerned as he was that Jewish hearers come to understand Jesus as the legitimate Jewish Messiah.

In truth, northern Israelite traditions comprised much of what we now have in the stories of Genesis and Numbers, as well as the entirety of the book of Deuteronomy. Samuel, the great prophet, to whom Luke likens Jesus (Luke 2:40; 1 Samuel 2:26), was from the tribe of Ephraim and a resident of Ramah, the town in which Rachel’s weeping can be heard according to Jeremiah. By raising all these references to northern traditions, it is as if Matthew is reminding his Jewish hearers that God initially blessed the northern citizens of Israel with numerous direct revelations from God through great anointed leaders long before the days of David and his royal house. Why, then, should not the Messiah appear in the North?

AT A GLANCE

A massacre of innocents is not just ancient history described in the gospel of Matthew. In fact, it happened 100 years ago today. We must take action to protect innocent and vulnerable people around us today.

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COMPASSION

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RACISM

ANIMATING ILLUSTRATIONS

“This was a period of time when racism was very strong in the United States, very out in the open,” said R. Thomas Dye, a historian at Florida State University who is studying Rosewood. “This was the era of Jim Crow. For a black man even to say something to a white woman, that was an excuse to be lynched. … And it didn’t just happen in Rosewood.” …

Dye suspects many of the [white] men may have come from a large Ku Klux Klan rally in Gainesville several days earlier. The men, Dye believes, were enraged that Sylvester Carrier and other black men had the audacity to take up arms and defend themselves against whites.

“Armed resistance by blacks was just unthinkable at that time,” Dye said. “That is why Rosewood was burned to the ground.”

—William Booth, “Rosewood,” The Washington Post, May 30, 1993, www.washingtonpost.com.


Patapsco United Methodist Church … made the news because they were being fined for allowing homeless people to sleep on their grounds at night. When interviewed, the Rev. Katie Grover defended this policy because “by allowing the homeless onto church grounds, she’s merely carrying out her duty to care for the ‘the last, the least and the lost,’ as Jesus commanded.”

“The last, the least, and the lost” is an amalgam of three verses in the book of Matthew in the New Testament of the Bible:

  1. The Last: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, NIV)
  2. The Least: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NIV)
  3. The Lost: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Matthew 18:11, NIV)

—Laura Bianca-Pruett, “The Meaning Behind the Title ‘The Last, the Least, and the Lost,’” Medium, March 15, 2018, https://medium.com.


We in the developed world are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside, but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting over generations, cracks patched but the deeper ruptures waved away for decades, centuries even. Many people may rightly say, “I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked indigenous people, never owned slaves.” And, yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures built into the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.

—Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2000), Kindle locations 341-345.


The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realization in our day-to-day lives. Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises. Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.

—Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (Harper, 1985), 13.


One afternoon, [Martin Luther King Jr.] and his wife journeyed to the southern tip of [India], to the city of Trivandrum in the state of Kerala, and visited with high school students whose families had been Untouchables. The principal made the introduction. “Young people,” he said, “I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.” King was floored. He had not expected that term to be applied to him. He was, in fact, put off by it at first. He had flown in from another continent, had dined with the prime minister. He did not see the connection, did not see what the Indian caste system had to do directly with him, did not immediately see why the lowest-caste people in India would view him, an American Negro and a distinguished visitor, as low-caste like themselves, see him as one of them. “For a moment,” he wrote, “I was a bit shocked and peeved that I would be referred to as an untouchable.” Then he began to think about the reality of the lives of the people he was fighting for — 20 million people, consigned to the lowest rank in America for centuries, “still smothering in an airtight cage of poverty,” quarantined in isolated ghettoes, exiled in their own country. And he said to himself, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” In that moment, he realized that the Land of the Free had imposed a caste system not unlike the caste system of India and that he had lived under that system all of his life.

—Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2000), Kindle locations 420-428.


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CHILDREN'S SERMON

Begin your time with the children by asking them to share something their families do every year at Christmas. You might begin by telling them something you do in your own family every Christmas. Perhaps it’s opening one gift on Christmas Eve. Perhaps each member of your family shares one thing they are thankful for in the year gone by. Linger over their answers as you enjoy the afterglow of Christmas with the children. See if they know what the word is to describe something that is done the same way time after time. The word is tradition. But Jesus broke with tradition, didn’t he? He was born in a stable, in the company of animals and welcomed by strangers, like the shepherds and the wise men. Just as Jesus was welcomed by strangers, so, too, should we welcome people who are different from us and share the love of the Christ child with each person we meet. Close with a prayer: “Thank you, God, for giving us Jesus, your Son. Thank you for this holy season when love comes to us again in the life of a baby, born in a stable. Help us to be more like this child of love. Amen.”


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