I did something this past week that I have never done in almost 15 years of ministry. On Saturday I completely threw out the Scripture and sermon I had been preparing all week and started over. After the horrific murders of 20 children and 6 adults in a Connecticut schoolhouse on Friday, I felt I had no choice. People need to know that even when something this raw and terrible happens, the Bible still has something to say to us. Not even Scripture can give quick answers or simple formulas to explain away the pain, but if the gospel of Jesus Christ is of no use to us on an occasion like this, then, well, the gospel of is of no use to us at all.
I won’t bore you by repeating the sermon here (if you are interested it will hopefully be posted to the website soon.) I will tell you, however, that I took as my text for the day Matthew 2: 13-18. It is the horrible story of Herod ordering the deaths of all the boys in and around Bethlehem in an effort to stamp out the threat to his power that Jesus represented. (Give Herod some credit; at least he was smart enough to recognize the significance of the birth of this child.) Tradition has assigned this text the title of “The Slaughter of Innocents.” The liturgical calendar even has a special day set aside each year – December 28 – on which to recall this bloody chapter from the story of God’s salvation.
Of course any story involving slaughter will immediately raise the questions of “why.” Why would God, who is all powerful and all loving, allow this sort of thing to happen? There is no simple answer to that question. All I can tell you is that there is an important lesson to draw from this Scripture. If the coming of Christ didn’t prevent murderous thugs from carrying out their evil schemes in his day, we can’t expect that it will in ours either. Until Christ returns evil will continue to operate in this world, and human beings will continue to suffer for it – sometimes even the most helpless and vulnerable human beings.
And that is why it is so important that the church tell the Christmas story. Jesus did not enter into some other world where everything is neat and tidy; he entered into this world with all its bloody sin. I will admit that some parts of our Christmas celebration will seem a little hollow this year. Candy canes and hot chocolate are little consolation in the face of such grief. But if the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t mean anything to us after the horrific events of last Friday, then we might as well unplug the Christmas lights and go home.
For unto us a child is born. May the God who was born as a helpless infant into a bloody world offer the Peace only He can give to all who mourn this day. And may the Herods of this world take note: your days are numbered.
Grace & Peace,