Archive for December, 2012

Sadness at Christmas

The unfolding events today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, defy belief.  What happened today is a parent’s worst nightmare.  Such horror piercing the Christmas season with grief and utter meaninglessness catches us all off guard.  What are we to do with a world so filled with injustice and terror?

Screen Shot 2012-12-14 at 3.04.38 PMThe repulsive story from the first Christmas and the birth of Jesus speak to me.  Matthew 2:16-18 tells us about the murder of the male babies in Bethlehem ordered by Herod.  This event is rarely included in the sweet stories of Christmas.  The central figure Herod reminds us of the potential of human evil. People had high hopes for Israel since Herod had the genius to know how to make peace with Rome. He was religiously Jewish although born of Arab descent.  But from the start, he was a political animal. He understood how to use power, and as the years crept up on him he used power more and more destructively. He was suspicious of almost everyone.  He married ten times and had his favorite wife murdered when he doubted her loyalty.  He feared the success of his sons and ultimately had two of them murdered to protect his throne.  Though very bright he was ruthless and brutal.  We are not surprised by the slaughter of baby boys of Bethlehem.  It fits his character.  Herod’s presence in the Christmas story reminds us of the dark face of evil and its power to destroy what is most precious in the world. (We are getting another glimpse of that evil today!) It reminds us that power will do whatever it takes to maintain supremacy.  At the same time, the actions of Herod show us how great God’s love is that he would enter into the world so frail and vulnerable.

I believe there is another reason for Matthew telling us the story of the slaughter ordered by Herod.  It prepares us for the horror of the cross.  If evil is so determined to take the life of Jesus at his birth, we can anticipate the outcome of his ministry. The surprise, of course, is that Jesus willingly faced the brutality and shame of the cross. Indeed, this is why Jesus came. Not only did God take on flesh in a broken world, he came so that the evil of it all might fall upon him…so that we might have confidence that God loves us and is for us even at a time like this, and so that we might have confidence that as Jesus was raised up evil will be conquered through him.

Today many families in Connecticut cannot believe this.  They feel no hope, only loss.  As we learn more about what happened this morning, let us pray.  Pray for them, the families affected by this heinous crime and that God will bring healing to a grieving community and a shocked nation. Pray that what has happened will deepen the longings of our hearts and that many will turn to Him in repentance and seek forgiveness. Pray that God will show us all how precious life is.  (Hug those you love and tell them you do.) Finally, pray for the coming of our true and loving King.

Unclean are welcome!

Christmastime is here. This is a season of joy because Jesus has come, and he has come to us. What we are told about Jesus’ birth is meant to put an exclamation point on that truth.  Jesus came to rich and poor, to the clean and the unclean, to Israel and to the Gentiles. First, I think of the shepherds.  Despite the beautiful Old Testament images of “the Lord is my Shepherd,” by the time of Jesus shepherds were considered unclean.  Why?  They became known for pasturing their flocks wherever they wanted. Imagine discovering that precious grass on your land you reserved for your own animals had become yesterday’s meal for another man’s flock!  Apparently, this was common, so common in Israel that by the time of Jesus, the rabbis considered shepherds unclean.  Add to this the fact that shepherds were uneducated types and what today would be considered lower class.  Mary and Joseph might well have been expected to send them away. The shepherds themselves no doubt wondered if they’d be welcome.

ssAll of this adds to the surprise that the angel appeared to them to begin with. God knew the obstacles for the shepherds. The angel told them that they would find the baby swaddled with strips of cloth.  This was the way the poor in Israel wrapped their children.  Furthermore, they would find the baby lying in a manger.  These were signs the shepherds would welcome.  We know the shepherds were warmly received by Mary and Joseph.  The shepherds left with joy praising God for all that happened.

The message seems clear.  If the shepherds, those considered unclean, were welcome at the manger, certainly we will be as well.  As Ken Bailey has said:

The unclean were judged to be clean. The outcasts became honored guests.  The song of the angels was sung to the simplest of them all.

This means there is room at the manger for me and you!