I haven't been able to shake the news from this past Friday's shooting in a school in Connecticut. Perhaps it's because my youngest child is 6. Maybe it's because it's supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year." Perhaps it's because I'm human, and I know that in the deepest part of me that this is not the kind of world that God wishes for us.
There is a section of text from Matthew 2:16-18 that is not usually included in our Advent sermons or Christmas pageants. This was the first verse that came to me on Friday when I heard this news. Many years ago, when friends lost a baby, Derek preached an Advent sermon about this text. Some of what's below are ideas stolen from this sermon (thanks, Derek!). Here is the text:
"When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
'A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.'"
Derek and I saw a play in Boston many years ago based on medieval Mystery Plays. These were plays that were performed in the town squares in Europe during the middle ages to teach Bible stories. The version that we saw included several scenes of numbing violence and raw emotion. One particularly disturbing scene - I can still picture it today after seeing it 14 years ago - was a section of the Christmas story. After Joseph, Mary and Jesus exited the stage (on their way to Egypt in the story), several women entered the stage area, carrying and singing to little bundles in their arms. All of a sudden, soldiers rushed in, tearing the bundles from the mothers' arms and thrusting them with their spears, turning them inside out to reveal crimson red ribbons. The soldiers threw the bundles into heaps on the floor and walked away to leave the mothers, sobbing over the bloody mounds.
We were both in shock after the play. It was definitely NOT the "happily ever after" Christmas story that we're used to - with cute, fluffy lambs, shepherds who trip over their bath robes, and wise men wearing too-big crowns. We had many questions. Could deep agony and despair be part of the Christmas story? Could the birth of this "God-with-us" baby actually cause the suffering of other innocent children? How does God break into situations of pain?
When I talk to Shegofa about her experiences growing up under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, I am blown away. "How did you not cry every day?" I asked her. Their daily dose of violence and destruction numbed her to feeling sad, and she said that she just concentrated on her own family - hoping for safety, but sometimes fearing the worst when a bomb went off close to home. I'm sure that many voices can still be heard in Kabul and around Afghanistan, weeping for children who are no more.
Back to Jeremiah. After the section that's quoted in Matthew, Jeremiah turns hopeful in 31:13,
"Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for all your work shall be rewarded...
There is hope for your future."
So while many facebook posts that I've read lately question whether to pray, or why to pray, at times like these, or where God is, or whether God is, I choose to pray. Even if that means crying out in anger. I choose to believe that there is hope for our future.
December 19th: Not a question today, just a word: believe.