Like everyone else, I was shocked and then deeply troubled last Friday as I watched the unfolding news coverage of the massacre that occurred in a Connecticut elementary school. My first instinct was to try and make sense of it - how - who - why? But then I quickly realized: Senseless murder is always just that - senseless. There is simply no making sense of it, so don't bother trying. And although all murders are troubling, there is something much more sinister and dark about knowing that young children were deliberately targeted and then riddled with bullets.
So how do I process something evil like this in what is supposed to be the joyous and peaceful season of Christmas?
Well it struck me as I was reflecting on the Christmas story found in Matthew 2, that the school shooting in Connecticut is not the first time children have been deliberately targeted and massacred at Christmas time, in fact the direct result of the very first Christmas was a mad man ordering the mass execution of infants and toddlers.
"Herod was furious when he learned 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, because the wise men had told him the star first appeared to them about two years earlier. Herod's brutal action fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah:
'A cry of anguish is heard in Ramah - weeping and mourning unrestrained. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted - for they are dead."
It appears that the same evil that was evident at the first Christmas is still alive and well in our world today. As a father to a twenty month old son, this thought is frightening. Instinctively I want to protect my boy and attack anyone who would dare harm him. But the cruel fact is that in spite of my best efforts, I cannot always protect him nor guarantee his safety. So I must realize that it is not any one person, people, or system that threaten him, but evil itself. As long as evil exists in this world the potential for ordinary people to do evil things will also exist.
But how can I attack evil? How can anyone attack evil? There is only one way - with love, radical love.
The kind of radical love that God demonstrated to an evil king in an evil world on that first Christmas when instead of being concerned about protecting His only Son from those who would harm Him, God sent His Son into harms way into an evil world to die for evil people so that they could get rid of the evil deeds of darkness and live out the good deeds of the Kingdom of Light. Radical love and radical sacrifice - even towards the perpetrators of evil - that is God's Way.
Victoria Soto embodied this type of sacrificial love. She was one of the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School who after hearing gunfire hid her students in the classroom closets and then faced the masked gunman alone. When he burst into the classroom and at gunpoint demanded to know where her students were, she told him that they weren't there - and was immediately gunned down. She was found huddled over her children, her students, protecting them to her dying breath. Victoria Soto faced evil with radical, sacrificial love and in doing so saved her students.
This is a picture of what Jesus did for the world - but not only for the good people or the deserving people.
King Herod and Adam Lanza, the two men behind the mass murders of children, and yet it was even for them and people like them that Jesus, The Son of God, came into this world to save and redeem.
But be warned, the path of radical love is not an easy one, it wasn't easy for Jesus and won't be for you or I, but it is the path that God Himself has shown us.
May God grant all of us the grace, courage, and faith to follow His path through these troubled times.
Most of us think of the Christmas story as one of joy, peace and harmony – With the soft melody of “Silent Night, Holy Night” playing in the background, we picture sheep grazing, angels singing, and of course baby Jesus, complete with glowing face, asleep on the hay.
Because of this, whether or not we believe it really happened, we tend to think of the Christmas story as nothing more than a fairy tale, a nice story to tell the kids and maybe sing a few carols about, but it has no place in the reality of our lives today. Because for most of us, life today is about as far from the peaceful scenes of sheep grazing and angels singing as one can get.
That is why we need to discover that the true Christmas story is far less serene and idyllic than what we have made it out to be. In fact the Christmas story could just as easily be looked at as a story of a marriage in crisis and a family under attack.
Remember the story begins with Joseph in the process breaking off the engagement with Mary after he discovered that she was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. And even after an angel visits Joseph in a dream to tell him that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and he does proceed to take Mary to be his wife, he still undoubtedly had to endure the whispers and gossip of the community. Any way that you look at it, these were less than ideal circumstances in which to begin a marriage.
Later on in the story we read of the visit of the wise men, magi from the east who had followed the star to come and worship the newborn king. In our Christmas pageants we always stop at the part where the magi outwit King Herod and return to their own country by a different road. We fail to go into or even mention that King Herod was so furious and intent on killing this perceived threat to his throne that he orders the execution of every single baby boy, two years old and under in the entire region. For me having a son that falls into that age category, the thought of this is more than a little unsettling. Of course we know that Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus, were warned by an angel and so they escaped and fled to a foreign country just in time. But once again, anyway you look at it this is a story of crisis upon crisis. It begins with an unplanned pregnancy, potential scandal, and a marriage in crisis, followed by an arduous journey, giving birth in less than sanitary conditions, closely followed by a maniac king seeking to kill their child, and then having to run for their lives to a foreign country.
When we put it into these terms we begin to realize that the Christmas story is firmly rooted in the reality of this world – a world where scandal, divorce and broken families are an ongoing reality. We see the pain and devastation of these things all around us – we know that nearly as many marriages end in divorce as in “happily ever after”; we know that the consequences of a broken family are as real for the children as they are for the adults; we know that the pain for everyone involved is very real and long lasting. So what does the Christmas story have to do with any of this?
It shows us that God entered this world right in the middle of all its pain and difficulty to meet with us exactly where we are. He didn’t come to save the perfect family; He came to save your family. He didn’t come to speak words of judgment to those caught in scandal; He came to speak words of comfort. He didn’t come to avoid those whose marriages are in crisis; He came to restore them. He didn’t come to make all of the trials of this life disappear; He came to guide you through them. He didn’t come to look down on your weakness; He came to heal you.
No matter what struggles you have, no matter the condition of your life, God came for you. God came to enter the reality of your life and begin making all things new – but He won’t force His way in – He enters only by invitation.
So how about you, have you invited Him into your life? Your marriage? Your family? If not, what do you have to lose? You’ll be amazed at what He has in store for you.
May God bless you and yours richly this Christmas,
~Pastor Danny, Leanne, & Declan Groening
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