Monday, December 17, 2012

The Slaughter of Innocents

So I've given myself some time to process- as a minister, as a father, as a human- although the more I process the events the more befuddled I become.  I'm assuming it's the same for you. 

26 people. 
20 children.  (6 years old, 6 years old, 7 years old, 6 years old...)
6 adults, including teachers/administrators- some of our greatest public servants. 
Assault weapon. 
Elementary school. 

In what world do those phrases have any sort of convergence?  How can this happen?  How can we live in the face of such inexplicable violence and irrational darkness?  Yesterday, I mumbled a few words to the congregation, although I felt like I was whistling into a whirlwind.  All I knew to do was "believe out loud," so here goes.

Truth be told, I was getting ready to hunker down with the shepherds and Joseph and Mary one more time.  I was ready to gather at the manger- Norman Rockwell style.  I've seen the portraits of the Nativity- the ones that portray the manger as a fairly nice crib and the stall as a sanitized delivery room.  The ones that give baby Jesus an incandescent glow rather than that strange purply color of most newborns.  The ones that portray Mary as saintly beautiful rather than in need of more pain meds.  I was settling into the sentimentality of the season, when suddenly the events of Friday knocked the sentimentality and romanticism right out of it.  Silent Night was about the farthest song from my mind on Friday.  All was neither calm nor bright.

At some point along the way- I remembered the way Matthew tells the story.  The birth of Jesus is told with such brevity you almost read over it without noticing it.  Matthew tells of the birth of Jesus in one verse- "She gave birth to a Son: and he called his name Jesus" (1.25). 

In the next verse, Matthew begins the story of King Herod, who upon hearing of one born "King of the Jews," set about to remove the threat.  In his paranoia and insecurity (to which history attests), Herod initiated a policy of death, systemically killing children 2 and under throughout the region.  This event has been popularly deemed "The Slaughter of Innocents."  I've never seen Norman Rockwell make an attempt at this one, nor have I seen this depicted on a Hallmark card.  And yet, this is the backdrop for the birth of Christ in Matthew's gospel.  Infantcide.  Irrational evil.  Immeasurable darkness.

Furthermore, the scandal of it all is that this story isn't about God's absence (as some have argued about our most recent tragedy)- but God's presence.  GOD IS WITH US- Immanuel.  God shares in every pain, every death, every tear, and every loss- because God exists in close proximity with us.  When the voices cried in Ramah (2.18), Mary's, Joseph's, and Jesus' voices were among them.  In his inexplicable love and irrational concern, God became one of us.  It was love that drove God to the manger.   The manger was a donkey's feed trough.  The stable was anything but sanitized.  The birth was anything but romanticized.  It was as real as life is- and as messy and painful.   

Honestly, I take some peace in the fact that Jesus' birth left little room for the sentimental and the romanticized because neither my life nor our world is sentimental and romanticized.  Jesus was not born into a Norman Rockwell world; he was born into our world.  Death, evil, and suffering are realities in our world and must be acknowledged as such.  In our frail humanity, we stare into the abyss day after day, sensing an expansive darkness that brings us to our knees.

What we most need is good news that comes to us in the midst of our realities, not that which ignores them.  What we most need is a presence that calms our souls in ways that answers never will. 
What we most need is a God who draws near suffering, not a God who runs away from it. 
What we need is a love that is as irrational as the hatred and fear.
What we need is an inexplicable light that shines amidst inexplicable darkness.
What we need is a peace that comes from open doors, not that which only exists behind triple locked ones.

And so, the last few days I've returned to the story and rediscovered the news.
Glory to God.
Peace on Earth.

In what world do those phrases have any sort of convergence?  How can this happen?  How can we stare into the face of such immeasurable love and irrational peace?  Truth is- I can't get my head or heart around what happened in Bethlehem that night any more than I can get my head or heart around what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday.  But the only way I know to move forward after last Friday's darkness is in the light of this other story.  The only way I know to move forward is by trusting that there is more truth and meaning in that one verse in Matthew than in the thousands of reports we've consumed in these days.  While Herod's violence lives on in this world, so does Christ's peace.

No matter the depths of the darkness.  No matter the breadth of the pain.  No matter the statistics of death.  No matter the power of fear.  No matter the layers of despair.  Jesus comes to us one more time.  It's in times like this that we cling to Immanuel like our lives depend on it.  Because...well... they do. 

She gave birth to a son and he called his name Jesus.

This news brings me to my knees as well.


Bruce Prescott said...

Thanks for sharing this Preston.

Gina Clegg said...

Great post!

Talia Morgan said...

With a heavy heart tonight, my father opened up my computer to this page. I am happy to have this avenue of conversation as I am as happy to have you as our Pastor. Thank you for your heart of hearts. Merry Christmas to your and your lovely family!
Talia Morgan