When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
-Matthew 2:16-18 (NIV)
In those twenty homes, there will be empty beds tonight. Funerals to plan. Children to bury. There are holiday gifts that will go unopened.
As I write this, those families don’t even know why.
As I write this, my son is home sick from his school. He’ll have homework to catch up on. Classwork to make up. I’m glad he’s home, though. That means I don’t have to watch slyly out the window for him to come up the sidewalk this afternoon. It means I won’t be tempted to call him this afternoon, when his school lets out and he heads for the train.
It means I can tell him I love him an extra time or two today.
Twenty families in Connecticut won’t have that chance again.
I guess you can tell what a generation of adults fears most by the drills we put our kids through in school. My parents had air raid drills. I had fire and tornado drills. (Apparently, tornadoes can’t get to you if you sit in an interior hallway with your back against the wall and your hands over the back of your head.) Now that we’re the adults, we drill our kids on what to do if there’s a terrorist attack. Or an intruder in the school with a gun.
Makes more sense today, doesn’t it?
It’s tempting to talk about how the world has changed, how our towns used to be safe and kids could go to school without fear, and parents didn’t have to worry that they might not come home again. And maybe it has changed, to some degree. Then again, there have always been people to whom nothing, not even the lives of children, meant more than their own agendas.
That’s the world Jesus was born into, in fact.
It’s the part of the Christmas story we never retell, it seems. For good reason. How many homes did Herod’s thugs invade? How many families were destroyed? How many parents spent the rest of their lives grieving ? Christmas is about peace and goodwill. It’s about a silent night, not a night split with the cries of Rachel weeping for her lost children. But Jesus came into such a world as that. Such a world as this, where parents can’t take for granted that their children will be OK.
He came “to save his people from their sins,” the angel told Mary.
Today, I’m sort of wondering why he didn’t save those eighteen kids in Connecticut, or those nine staff and faculty who died with them, from the sins of their murderer.Somehow, I think if the parents of those children who died in Bethlehem could have known why their kids were murdered, they wouldn’t have been comforted a great deal. Messiah? Well, maybe. But I imagine they would have preferred that their kids survived. “Why couldn’t the angel have
warned us?” they might have asked, understandably. “Why did he alone get the chance to escape? And where was this Savior while our kids were dying? Hiding in Egypt?”
At least, I think those are some of the questions I might have been asking.
Historically, the church has used this time of year, as Christmas approaches, as a time to ask questions very much like that. In our largely secular approach to “the Holidays” in our time, even believers have lost sight of it. For us, it’s a time to shop, and cook, and decorate, and go to parties. But all that can distract us from seeing the difference between the world we inhabit and the world Jesus came to show us and bring about. It distracts us from seeing the distance between the people we are and the people God intends for us to be.
You can hear it in the old holiday music, though, if you listen:
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
Though Rachel wept, and Herod killed toddlers, the day came when God called his Son out of Egypt to come and save the world. And when he came, the worst the world could do - and even the power of death - couldn’t stand against him. And though today another generation of parents grieves lost children, the day will come when God will again call his Son to come and save the world. And when he comes on that day, “the new heaven and earth shall own the Prince of Peace, their King.” The hopes and fears of all the years will be met. The worst evil and sin in our world, and in ourselves, will be finally dealt with, and even death will be forced to give up those he’s taken.
While that might not seem to be much comfort to parents grieving today, one day, it will be everything.
May God comfort those who are mourning tonight, and may the hope and promise of Jesus be truly in their hearts.