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December 15, 2004
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be heard in church this Sunday -- one is the usual sermon preparation eMo, and the second is intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the work of the Church with the suffering through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution.

Isaiah 7:10-17 * Psalm 24(1-7) * Romans 1:1-7 * Matthew 1:18-25


Curds and Honey

He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. Isaiah 7:15

Curds and honey -- soft food a baby can eat. Omigod!!! a modern American would say, doesn't she know you're not supposed to give a baby honey!?!! She has read several books about babies, in the dreamy months before her first, and resolves to protect her baby from absolutely everything. You don't give a baby honey. Be sure to put the baby down on her back or she'll choke to death on her own vomit. She is worried about inoculations, has read conflicting things about them, has friends who don't intend to have their babies vaccinated. She is worried about what to do with the baby when she cries. Do you pick them up right away or do you let them cry? One book said terrible things happen to them emotionally, permanent terrible scarring, if you let them cry, but her mother says they don't have any other means of expression and just have to get it out of their systems a bit. Let him cry for a few minutes and just see, her mom says, and then go in and get him if you feel you need to. So she lies there in the dark, the thin wails deafening in her ears. She times them: they grow farther apart, and weaker. Maybe something's wrong. She tiptoes in and stands by the crib, watching the baby's chest intently, until she sees it go up and down.

And something is wrong with the baby's feet. They don't look like he's going to be able to walk on them -- they're sort of curved. She asks the doctor about it on their first checkup. They're fine, he says, he just hasn't used them yet. And the baby's father is worried about his soft spot -- You can see it pulsing, he says, that can't be right. The doctor says it's fine.

We are very careful today, as Mary and the parents of her day were unable to be. The efficient round of modern parenting -- the doctor visits, the magical medicines, the carefully rationed educational TV, the psychologist-approved toys, the lessons in everything from ballet to viola, the special exercises to improve eye-hand coordination in the very young, the tense search for the proper nursery school -- is very different from the hazardous undertaking that produced, up until very recently, the whole of the human race and all the great minds in it.

Not only did they live, they lived to learn right from wrong. Lived to teach it to others. Lived to hand it down to us. Many died, but enough lived so that we live and inherit their wisdom.

Relax. You will do your best with your new baby, and your best will be very good. Allow the natural tendency of the organism to grow and thrive free rein. You are not foolish to be scared of things in this new enterprise -- God has endowed parents with this fear so that we will bestir ourselves to keep them safe, because it really is a dangerous world. But it is also a beautiful one, full of risk and delight, good and evil between which they must choose, and they will learn how to choose from us.

Love Casts Out Shame

"...and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly." -- Matthew 1:19

What might public shaming have done to Mary, the mother of our Lord? It might have killed her: the law permitted a woman caught in such a a position to be stoned to death. But Joseph was a just man, Matthew says. And he may already have loved the woman who was to be his wife. He didn't want to hurt her. And he didn't know any other way to handle this situation -- although God was about to show him another way.

Shame kills people today, too. Episcopal Relief and Development's partners walk a delicate line in HIV/AIDS education efforts in Africa, and in their provision of care to those who suffer. The enormous numbers of the infected have not wiped out the stigma attached to the disease in many places: some people still prefer to suffer and die alone, rather than expose their families to the shame of their diagnosis.

But American visitors to the clinics supported by Episcopal Relief and Development in southern Africa frequently remark upon the dignity of the
patients there, and upon the quiet, stubborn love of their families, who
journey miles with them to the treatment centers, bringing food and bedding from home. Familial love -- family understood much more broadly than we understand it here, including dozens, perhaps scores of related people -- is source of spiritual power in Africa, undergirding situations that might otherwise be unbearable. Faced with intractable suffering, love conquers in the end, simply by refusing to turn away.

How did AIDS come into a family's life? Was the mother's first hint of her husband's infidelity her own infection, a baby's first experience of HIV/AIDS in the womb? Or was it the sad facts of family life in many villages: the long absence of the father in a work camp, where loneliness and a little cash buys brie f comfort and then endless suffering, and the act of love brings it all tragically home?

We might think that the means of transmission would make a big difference in the degree of shame a family experiences, but a visit to a
clinic supported by ERD tells us that it need not be so. It doesn't matter how you got it: you are a human being until the very end, a life worth prolonging as long as it is possible, a life worth morning when it is finished. The children of the dead and dying shock visitors with their joy: they are children of tragedy, yes, but they are still children, one American visitor says, and she tells of how they blew bubbles together. And how the children laughed and laughed.

How did Mary become pregnant, people in her town must have asked. There must have been a stigma attached to her, too. But, however it happened, it mattered less in the end than who the child was who would be born. At the foot of the cross, her unusual pregnancy didn't set her apart form any other bereaved mother: what kept her there was stubborn love, the same love that binds together the families of the stricken all over the world.
To learn more about ERD's work in southern Africa, visit or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.
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