It could be called, "The Slaughter of the Innocents." Oh, but not at Christmas! How much more poignant that it's this time of year.
Imagine the weeping in Connecticut ... imagine the struggle to find any comfort. Never again could their children come "home for Christmas." Our tears have joined with their tears – our hearts heavy with their hurt, weighed down by their devastation.
Reports of the senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary both shocked and saddened the world. No loss shakes us like the loss of little children. And this tragic loss of twenty young ones along with six of their educators is even more profound because of the horrific violence that ended their lives.
Many parents had purchased gifts that were already placed under the tree. How this painful scene tugs at our heart strings. And we inevitably ask, "How could this happen at Christmas!"
Around the Christmas holiday, we picture silver bells, red balls and bright lights. We hear stories of a brilliant star, traveling wise men and angels serenading shepherds. But there is another Christmas story, most often ignored and forgotten, because it is a story of horror, cruelty, and violence.
Murder in Bethlehem
An insanely jealous king gave the order, and his soldiers obeyed. That night men with swords searched through every home in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. Mercilessly they murdered every male baby and toddler – every boy age two and under was ruthlessly slaughtered.
What prompted the slaughter of the innocents? A short time before that terrible night, wise men from the East came to Judea searching for a "newborn king." They followed his star rising in the night sky, and their journey brought them to the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem. Herod pointed them to Bethlehem to aid their search for the child ... however, he secretly planned to murder the infant once he was discovered.
This cruelty of this king would allow no threat to his throne, so he determined to "eliminate the competition" – no matter how many babies would be butchered or how many families would be fractured.
Meanwhile, the Magi were truly wise. They listened to God's warning concerning the infant king and after finding the Christ child, they quickly returned to their own country – intentionally eluding Herod. The Bible reports, "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" (Matthew 2:16).
Because of the king's fury, Herod gave the nightmarish command, which was promptly carried out – killing innocent children who had no malice toward him, children who had never wronged him, children who didn't even know him. The silence of the night was shattered by the piercing cries of unimaginable pain – the wailing of brokenhearted parents.
These scenes of grief and violence provide the backdrop for the birth and infancy of Mary's son Jesus. When he was born, they called him Immanuel (which means "God with us") because God was literally present with them.
Where is God?
Now, more than two thousand years later, our silent nights were punctuated once again with the anguish of devastated parents – with "... weeping and great mourning ... weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:18).
At Christmastime, we can realize how God came to be with us in the person of Christ, but we also need to know that He remains with us now. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, "He will never leave you nor forsake you." The comforting truth is this:
• Wherever his children are found, He is present. If the presence of Christ could be found anywhere on earth, it was at Sandy Hook Elementary welcoming them to a brighter life in eternity. Jesus did say… "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14).
• Wherever hearts are broken, He is present. Our prayer is that grieving families in Connecticut and across our nation will feel comfort from the presence of Christ. Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit".
• Wherever the weak are oppressed, He is present. Yes, wherever there is poverty of spirit ... wherever there are prisons of stone, of grief, of sickness ... wherever the blind stumble, He is present. Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free ..." (Luke 4:18-20).
How Is God at Work?
The violence of Herod and the mass murder of children complete the scene for the birth of Christ ... just as much as watching shepherds, singing angels, and a repurposed manger. Jesus Christ entered a world broken by murder and torn by grief. He invaded a world where those who are stronger victimize the weaker. He became part of a world where the innocent can become prey for the deranged. But Christ came to be in this world ... not of this world.
The birth of Christ is the moment when the life of God invaded our world of suffering and death. Yet Jesus was touched with that same sorrow and death from the time of his birth. His mother wrapped him in swaddling cloths – material the poor used to make burial shrouds. His father named him Jesus because he would save his people from their sins – a task he could only fulfill through his own terrible death…and resurrection.
How is God working in our world? He has suffered for us, and He suffers with us. We wait for His kingdom to come ... we wait for His will to be done. One day the Prince of Peace will take His throne, making all things new. One day He will bring everlasting life out of this world of death.
"Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. ... He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:3-4 NIV).
This is our hope for the New Year – He who is "God with us," He is still present – He indeed is still with us.