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Hallo again to all.

Today, the Church teaches us to rejoice. We switch from somber purple to rose-coloured vestments, with the pink paraments of the altar and vesture of our clergy giving our eyes a flirty glimpse of the happiness just over the liturgical horizon. If 'Advent tells us Christ is near', its third Sunday tells us Christ is even nearer. We look forward each year to today's return, and to the texts and observances connected with it. The day is called Gaudete from the first Latin word of the Introit appointed by ancient tradition:

Rejoice in the Lord alway; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Holy InnocentsBut these words stick in our sad throats today, and they will not sing.

For millions around the world—for tens and maybe hundreds of millions, we feel sure—there can be no normal traction for rejoicing this Sunday night. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut USA has joined the long list of places around the world forever associated with the slaughter of school children:

Nickel Mines

Instead of the quickening hearts we normally feel at this point in the Church's year, we feel shock and sorrow. More appropriate than the anticipatory song we should be singing today is the text of lament appointed for the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.*

Our natural—and even somatic—inability in the wake of last week's violence to sing the usual words of delight this Sunday is appropriate right now. But so is the mental and spiritual movement from Advent III through the Nativity to the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

Jesus comes to us 'in great humility' as the collect says, as the Child who is Love. From his first breaths to his last, Love is the target of violence in a world whose hearts are closed in fear, in pain, in anger, in loneliness, in mental darkness. The ancient story of the slaughter of the holy and innocent Hebrew children of Bethlehem is never distant from our headlines in an age of frequent failure to safeguard the lives of the weakest and gentlest among us. Herod and his many successors have killed with remarkable similarity through the millennia, extinguishing the lives of myriads of God's repeated, whispered Yesses to humanity. And yet without fail Evil finds a way to remind each generation of its concrete reality.

That this ancient story is ever new does not by any means explain it away, but it does give us a framework in which to begin to plant the seeds of hope. The Church has always understood the Holy Innocents—of Bethlehem in Judaea, of Nickel Mines, and now of Sandy Hook—to be the first heralds of the coming reign of the Prince of Peace. They demonstrate in ways we cannot ignore that our world is broken, and broken to the point of needing urgent, reparative attention. They show us beyond questioning that we have failed to build Jerusalem, the holy city seen of John 'where the tears are wiped from eyes that shall not weep again'.

When our hearts are broken by such killing, the best responses after mourning are the metanoia—the turning around, the changing, the switching of course, the renewed and re-purposed hearts—of John the Baptist's direction in today's Gospel reading: 'bear fruits worthy of repentance.'

What might such fruits of heart- and mind- and direction-changing look like when we are ready to bear them?

We wonder whether they may come in the shape of new-found commitments to the beating of swords into ploughshares; the building of societies in which children are neither objects of violence, nor of sexual objectification, nor of widespread and targeted economic exploitation; the seeking out of the most lost among us that we might try to heal and comfort them in their distress; and the sharing of the Good News about our God who became our Emmanuel 'that he might dwell in us, and we in him'.

The stable of our broken hearts is ready. Come, O word made flesh, and dwell among us.

See you next week, as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

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16 December 2012

* We were amazed at the number of times this very pericope appeared in social media postings over the last three days.

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