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January 2, 2009
Today's eMo is actually two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the church's work among those in need, explores the ministry of Episcopal Relief & Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution,. No further permission is necessary.

Scams Ancient and Modern

Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.
Matthew 2:8

Herod never intended to go and worship the Baby Jesus, of course. That was a scam from the beginning, and the unworldly kings seem to have fallen for it, until God intervened and sent scary dreams, one to the kings and one to Joseph. So the baby was safe, for the time being.

Would he have killed the baby if he had found him? Our tradition holds that he killed other babies, although there is no independent attestation of that terrible deed. Fairly solid rumor at the time had it that he had a couple of his own sons killed, though, because he thought they were a threat to his rule. So maybe the Slaughter of the Innocents is not as farfetched as it sounds.

We emerge from a tumultous year, one in which scams abounded. Politicians scammed their wives, their families and their constituents. Lenders scammed borrowers. Authors scammed their publishers. Wall street tycoons scammed each other. The newspaper brought us a new cheat every day.

You lay awake in bed, too tired to stay up to see in the New Year. Somewhere in the neighborhood you heard a firecracker or two, and somebody drove by honking his horn. You got up when it was light, and the house looked just the same as it did when you went to bed in 2008. You peered into the mirror; you looked pretty much the same, too. It's a new year, but we are not new. Nothing has changed.

A discouraging thought. More scams? Even less in which to believe? Who knows? We can neither predict nor control what others will do, but we do control our own actions. Perhaps paying attention to the news will make us a little less vulnerable -- we may now understand, for instance, that a loan which sounds too good to be true probably isn't. We may bestir ourselves to securing our own perimeters. We may start to read the fine print, to check on a few sources. Jesus called it being "wise as serpents and gentle as doves." Not a bad image for what is required of us now. Of couse not; it was required of us then, too. It's not news that people of faith need to watch out for themselves. There never has been such a thing as a free lunch.
If you are using the Christmas II proper:
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
or Luke 2:41-52
or Matthew 2:1-12
Psalm 84 or 84:1-8

Or, if you will be anticipating the Feast of the Epiphany,

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12
Psalm 72:1-7,10-14
And here is the Episcopal Relief & Development meditation:

Holy Land

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.
Matthew 2:6

Christian hearts travel to the Holy Land as we tell each other the old story. The place names roll off our tongues in a familiar way: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Jerusalem, Judea. We feel as if we knew these places. We've seen enough Christmas cards to imagine the landscape: a dark night, a cluster of little houses, an enormous star.

But most Christmas cards have little to do with reality. They must be beautiful, or we won't buy them. And so they romanticize our holy places. They make them look like we wish they were.

Very little in the Holy Land is as we wish it were these days. Once again, an outbreak of the violence that is never really stilled has shattered the silent nights of which we sing. Once again people have concluded that making war will somehow bring peace, and once again they have been proven wrong. Where does it end, we ask each other, shaking our heads. Maybe it doesn't end, a fearful voice inside whispers.

Through Episcopal Relief and Development, Episcopalians support emergency hospital care for anyone who needs it at Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. It is probably safe to say that none of the people being treated are Episcopalians; out of more than a million souls, only 3,000 in that densely populated strip are Christian. But bullets and bombs don't care who they strike -- Christian, Jew and Muslim: all alike bleed red. The current sudden need is overwhelming, but the physicians and hospital staff are safe at this moment and continue to work around the clock to handle the wounded and ease the suffering of the dying. More than 300 people have been killed in just the past week.

Will the land three faiths call holy ever look like our Christmas cards paint it for us? Perhaps not. But it will be at peace one day. No human situation goes on forever -- not the good ones and not the bad ones, either. In the meantime, there is much to be done, and the God who loves us all has given some of us the means to help.

For more information about Episcopal Relief & Development, or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-77626, ext 5129.
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