It is still Christmas, and unfortunately this is still part of the Christmas story. It does not stop with Jesus falling asleep peacefully in Mary’s arms, because in the background evil is still lurking. No matter how miraculous this birth was, it could not entirely wipe out the darkness just yet. Because this Jesus is born with a promise of peace and hope and a love to drastically alter the norm, this only enrages those who want to keep the world just as it is forever. And so, just to be on the safe side, all the children of Bethlehem are killed; to hopefully wipe out, once and for all, even the slightest possibility of peace, the slightest chance of hope for all people, and to stop this unexplainable love from taking over Bethlehem and beyond. The church calls it, “the slaughter of the innocents.”
And so it brings up the questions we have still yet to find an answer to; the same questions those precious mothers and fathers agonized over shortly after their Messiah was born too, but their own children paid the price for it. Why? Why do such horrible things happen to not only good people, but to infants? Why is there so much evil in the world? Why did God do this to them? And we have come up with our own humble attempts to soften the blows to our soul. “Everything happens for a reason,” we say. “This must be part of God’s greater plan.” “God needed more angels in Heaven.” That obviously did not help the parents in Bethlehem long ago, and it still doesn’t today. But, quite frankly, it’s all we’ve got. The truth is we cannot explain why such things happen at all.
However, one thing we do know is that God did not do this to the innocent children in Bethlehem. God does not desire death for anyone. God does not send horror or terror of any sort. God did not do this. Herod did this. Disgusting greed, lust for power, overwhelming corruption, horrifying hate, intolerable selfishness did this to innocent children. Herod did this to make sure no one messed with his control over the people. Jesus offered too much peace, too much hope, too much love, to take anything to chance. God did not do this. Herod did this, and humanity still does this to ourselves to this day.
And as much as we want the Christmas story to end with Jesus peacefully falling asleep in His mother’s arms, this part cannot be skipped. These children cannot be forgotten, because they remind us how much we still desperately need a Savior. Now yes, we have our moments of love to be sure. We help each other through difficult times. We are there for each other when we hit rock bottom. We will hug and embrace each other when the tears pour out. We will even pull off random acts of kindness to complete strangers from time to time. And yet no matter how much hope we bring to our own households and communities, just like Jesus did that precious night in Bethlehem, nevertheless, evil still lurks around us. The images still haunt the world from places like Aleppo, Syria, where far too many children have been killed for simply being born in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time.
Unfortunately, the Christmas story did not stop with Jesus in the manger, and the story of evil did not stop there either. But God is not the author of that story of evil. We are. Humanity is doing this to ourselves, as we did to the innocent children in Bethlehem long ago. Come to think of it, it was both a beautiful blessing and a hideous curse that God granted us to be co-authors of the world’s story long ago, when God instilled the gift of free will. But, of course, God hoped we would use such a gift to raise our children in peace, to show them compassion and love for complete strangers, to treat those vastly different from us with the same hospitality as God showed us in Jesus Christ, when God invited the world to a closer connection to God’s very self than ever before. Instead, we continue to take advantage of our chance to be co-authors of the world’s story with God, manipulating our free will for our own personal gain, even to the detriment of others. And so we still need the Savior not only to save us from the evil still lurking around us, but to rescue us from ourselves. We still need the child born in Bethlehem. We still need the Messiah Who died and rose again for us.
And that’s why Christ came in the first place: for us, for the children in Bethlehem long ago; because God gets to be the author our final chapter with no help from us. God gets to make sure the last moment of those children’s lives is not the darkness of death, but the light of everlasting life; of a Kingdom with no more evil lurking in the background, but only the peace that Christ brought us a glimpse of in a manger. Nothing this world can do, nothing our humanity can do, can take that away from us, including for the infants long ago. Christ has won the victory for all of us, and it only just began in Bethlehem, setting the stage for a cross and an empty tomb, where death was and is conquered forever. And for that greatest news of all, we give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon