Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rachel’s Children

I, like the rest of the country, am grieving the lives lost in Connecticut yesterday. Every life is precious, and it's important not to overlook the adults who were killed. The murder of so many children, however, is what makes the event especially shocking and painful. Something inside us wants to cry out, "They're just children. They're innocent and vulnerable. And it's almost Christmas."  In many ways, Christmas as we observe it in our culture is especially for the young among us, and the fact that the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School were denied the celebration their parents were preparing for them deepens the grief.

As I pondered that thought yesterday, I was struck by how incongruous it was. We rightly try to make Christmas celebrations full of joy, peace, and time spent with family, but the original Christmas story contained its fair share of grief, pain, and confusion. In fact, the original story involved parents who grieved for children — innocent, vulnerable children senselessly murdered because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That part of the Christmas story isn't usually portrayed in our pageants or songs, but it's there in the Bible. Matthew 2 relates the story of King Herod's fear that the "newborn king" the wise men came to find would usurp him. When the men returned to their homes without informing Herod of the child's location, he became murderously angry. Verses 16 - 18 say,  

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: "'A cry was heard in Ramah — weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead."

Jesus escaped to Egypt, but other parents lost their children to the whims of a madman. There was a time in my life when I found that especially disturbing. It didn't seem right that God would spare His own child, but leave others to be murdered.

As I worked through those thoughts, however, I came to realize that God ultimately didn't save His child, and that the horrible story actually illustrates some deep truths about the message of Christmas. Christmas is about God coming to live with us here in this mess of a world and about preparing a sacrifice that would be offered to free us from the pain and consequences of sin on the earth. It's about Emmanuel, which means "God with us."  He is with us here, in a world that often seems to make no sense. He is with us in a world where innocent children are brutally murdered. Yet, he won't leave us here. He came to prepare the way for a joyful eternity.

Those of us with chronic illnesses have had to learn that Christmas can't always be celebrated the way we would like it to be. We've learned that Christmas means finding the joy that is often hidden in pain. Even before becoming seriously ill, I had Christmas experiences that opened my eyes to the challenges the original Christmas story participants endured. Four times my husband and I moved during the Christmas season. Once I was "great with child."  More recently, my chemical sensitivities have led me to sleep, not in a manger, but not in a conventional bed under a conventional roof, either. The experiences remind me that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus didn't live pain-free lives. They had very human experiences in a very challenging world.

I grieve for the children who lost their lives in Connecticut. I grieve for the children who lost their lives in Bethlehem. I grieve for the pain of this fallen world.

But I rejoice in Emmanuel. I rejoice that God Himself is with us. I rejoice that this world isn't all there is and that one day all will be made right. May we cling to Christ tightly this year and remember those truths.


DebraSY said...

This incident made me think about the killing of the innocents too. Thank you for wrapping sensical thoughts around this horrendous, nonsensical act and helping me frame my unbridled grieving. This one hit me so much harder than past attrocities of its kind.

Martha McLaughlin said...

This shooting made me especially grateful that this story from last month: turned out the way it did. The Wal Mart in the story is less than a mile from my son's apartment, and he could have easily been there.

Joanna K. Harris said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts so beautifully and for reminding us of the truth that offers each of us comfort and joy - God WITH us!