On this, the third Sunday in advent, many churches are lighting the candle of joy.
In the light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, I’d like to switch the concentration of today’s post. I, and I’m sure most of you, are not feeling joyful today. We are saddened and horrified at the senseless and violent deaths of so many children and the adults who cared for them.
The Second Chapter of Matthew from Biblegateway:
The Magi Visit the Messiah
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Escape to Egypt
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[c]
16 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. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “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.”[d]
The Return to Nazareth
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Evil is not new. At Christmastime, we tend to concentrate on the wonderful parts of Jesus’ story. How miraculous that God sent his son to be among mankind! How joyous that he came to save us all! How adorable, the peaceful scene of the holy child in a stable, surrounded by animals and angels and shepherds.
The story of Jesus’ birth is so much more than the sanitized version we usually see. Not that there isn’t value in the sanitized version; that is exactly what we should present to young children. That is exactly what we should celebrate with our families.
However, as adults, we understand the greater, deeper story. How difficult it was for Joseph to take his pregnant wife on a long journey just because the powers that be decided it should be so. Arriving there, trusting in God, only to end up in a barn with the animals.
How must Joseph and Mary have felt when they escaped with their baby son, only to know that hundreds of other baby boys were dying? To know that their deaths were ordered because one fearful king was trying to kill their baby? I can not imagine the mix of relief, guilt, anger and anguish they must have experienced. I can not imagine what emotions must be coursing through the parents of students at Sandy Hook Elementary right now, the parents of those children who survived. Relief, certainly. But although their children live, they will forever carry this trauma with them. They are living victims.
No words can express the sorrow. No words can cover the grief. As humankind we mourn, whether Christian or not, whether American or not, whether we are parents or not. Together, we pray that someday humankind will, together, find a way to prevent such senseless tragedies from ever happening again.