As part of Jesus’ birth narrative, Matthew’s Gospel quotes the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more” (Matthew 2:18; Jeremiah 31:15). In our hearing of the Christmas story, we are confronted with Rachel’s refusal. Her lamentation is part of the chorus that proclaims Christ’s birth. Until the events of this past weekend, Rachel’s weeping may have seemed discordant with the joyous songs of angels singing “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” But now, as we face the massacre in Newtown, CT, we have some questions. Where was God? Why didn’t a loving God stop this from happening? Why does God allow evil to abound? Our flowing tears and authentic questions are now part of our welcome of the Christ child.
Matthew’s Gospel story refers to King Herod’s slaughter of Bethlehem’s children, an event that we have come to call the murder of the Holy Innocents, remembered in song by the familiar Coventry Carol:
Herod the King, in his raging,Rachel represents the suffering of those who are deprived of their freedom by an oppressive power. Who can give hope to Rachel when innocent children become victims of evil? For anyone to speak cheaply or glibly in the midst of such evil is certainly to utter blasphemy. Rachel refuses the consolation of facile explanations and false reassurance. Rachel refuses to be comforted by empty words. The Gospel writer wants us to remember that there are situations in which only God may speak of hope. In the face of the killings in Newtown, we will hear all kinds of voices trying to explain what happened. Some voices are repugnant, such as the suggestion that God allowed this to happen because God is not allowed in public schools. Other answers sound benign, but to our ears are equally repugnant – that God is short of angels in heaven and needed these children. We don’t have all the answers, but we believe in our hearts that God speaks in the midst of those who grieve and hurt at this moment. If we want to hear the voice of our still speaking God, let us tune our ears to the Divine Spirit whose name refuses to be spoken unless spoken through those who have been silenced, and through the tears of those who weep for their loss.
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.
Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.
During this season of hope, love and joy, we also affirm that Jesus knows all about suffering, evil and pain. Jesus tells his followers that they will face violence. But he also tells them that they will not be alone when evil abounds. Jesus does not stand by idly when our hearts are breaking. Jesus is our Emmanuel, God is with us, reminding us that the Divine Child comes to fill our suffering with the presence of loving light.
In times of darkness, we can be tempted to pull back from others and cocoon. But there is another way. Facing evil can lead us to become peacemakers. Peacemakers are people who heal by pulling close and building community, instead of breaking apart. Peacemakers are people who can get in touch with their own pain and disappointment with God and reach out to others who suffer. Peacemakers are those who have suffered with Christ, just like Christ has suffered with us. So, let us find those deep places of compassion, humility, and the desire to root out the weeds of evil.
Please come talk to us if you have any questions or concerns, or if you just need to share in this time of grief.
Pastor Matt and Pastor Amy