the penultimate WORD



Series 2006 - December
A voice was heard in Ramah...!



The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican




11th Century Manuscript of the Masses of St John Evangelist and Holy Innocents








Thus says the LORD: 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.

Jeremiah 31:15


My copy was a gift.

And like most gifts given and received, I unwrapped it with excitement and anticipation.  Its shape predicted a book. Knowing I value books, the gift was given with me in mind.  I tore through the tissue that kept secret the hidden treasure. 

Not unlike the precedent set by Iraqi magi – we know them as Persians – who had an Israelite baby in mind, of the Tribe of Judah when they went shopping for gifts.  Extraordinary gifts presented at the dawn of an extraordinary era – not common at all – reflected more of the interest and insight of the gift bearers than the infant that prompted their largesse.

My newly acquired book was such a gift.  As the tissue slipped to the floor, the cover of Anne Rice’s novel of witness, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt came to light.  Unlike most books of this genre – speculative biography of silent years in Jesus’ life – the author appended a Note, wherein she bravely shares her faith and the effect of placing pen to paper had in this effort. 

Anne Rice follows in the apostolic pattern of answering Jesus’ penetrating and thoughtful question addressed first to Peter.

[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Matthew 16:15ff

Her conclusion drew me closer to Jesus than I expected.

As we share the Yuletide truths of the season with our children, generation by generation – truths about Santa Claus and the festive traditions celebrated in homes across the diocese, so truths are shared in the speculative account of Jesus following his Flight into Egypt.  We begin to experience the exposed vulnerability we otherwise sidestep during this Nativity cycle of Scripture readings.

Secrets were shared and Jesus learned of his paternity. In due course he learned of his calling.  His self-consciousness became every bit an Epiphany as such lessons of life are for us news penetrating our self-awareness.  The care and diplomacy of Jesus’ parental stewards reflects the common genesis of each one of us, down through the ages.  Anne Rice allows the note of truth to ring. The tone of the exchange suggests an authentic moment in the maturation of the adolescent boy.

As far as that goes, such a story shared with a child has familiar currency in every age.  As with Jesus’ paternity (and maternity, for grace and truth found gestation revealing God’s will), so we might identify cherished moments of intimacy with our parents – as the case may be – when we learned with rapt incredulity of our own genesis and ourselves as the product of our parents love.

Rice went further.

Mary, in the disturbing news of the Holy Innocents achieves the climax of the epiphany that brought an awareness and depth of strength to a child visibly shaken by the jealous rage of King Herod.  The knowledge of his survival weighed heavily on his shoulders for a life span. The hillside outside the City wall of the Holy City almost twenty years later had not diminished the burden.

“Tales of a Messiah born there had caused a jealous rage to come from King Herod,” Anne Rice places on the lips of Mary.  “He’d sent soldiers down from his fortress only a few miles away.  They’d killed every little child in the village!  Some two hundred children murdered in the darkness before dawn.”

Indeed a voice was heard in Ramah – wailing and loud lamentation.  Rachel refused to be consoled for the loss of these Innocents.  Innocents still perish in Iraq and Israel and Somalia.  Ireland and Rwanda are not forgotten.  A dark continent afflicted with AIDS will not lighten.  And today’s indifference adds weight to the Bearer of a different gift as he continuously draws closer to the hillside known as Golgotha.

Rice allows us to see the compassion of his consciousness at learning the truth about his Nativity.  “I thought for a moment,” she writes of Jesus’ thoughts, “I would give way to tears, but I used all my strength not to do it.” 

Not all his strength.  For the cross-bar borne to a hillside as gift for all Innocents and Herod too, took strength beyond measure. 


Copyright © 2006 James T. Irvine



Bruegel: Slaughter of the Innocents

Series 2006

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton

penultimate WORD Festivals of Light Series


This e-mail was received from the author...


Rev. Canon, what youve written is so beautiful and so generous.  How can I thank you?  Let me ask: might I link to your column from my website? --  Im just sort of happily stunned by what youve written.  I appreciate it so much. 

Anne Rice