Most people know how the story goes. Joseph and Mary get engaged. Mary is found to be pregnant before they
actually wed. Joseph, knowing full well
he did not get Mary pregnant, has resolved to part ways with her quietly so as
not to bring attention to her infidelity.
How could he have so misjudged her character? It takes an angelic visitation in a dream to
convince Joseph that his bride-to-be has indeed been faithful to him.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph, God has done
something in the starry sky that pagan astrologers far away from the Holy Land
somehow correctly interpret as being a sign that a King is to be born in
Israel. They make the long journey from
the East and arrive very near the time of the birth of Jesus. Unfortunately, they go straight to Herod (the
Roman appointee as king of Israel) and ask where the new king of the Jews has
been born. News of a newborn King is not
exactly what a reigning king wants to hear so Herod hatches a plan. He assembles his religious scholars who, upon
poring over the Scriptures, discover that the prophet Micah had predicted the
Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Informing the Magi he points them to Bethlehem and asks only that when they
find the new king they return to let him know where he is so that he too may go
and worship Him. We know, however, that
it was murder, not worship, which Herod was planning.
We all know the Magi found the Royal Family with the help of
something in the night sky. They
worshiped Jesus and bestowed gifts and made camp for the night intending to go
back to Jerusalem and tell Herod where the Christ was. They too had a dream which convinced them
that going back to Jerusalem was not a good idea. They left soon thereafter going straight back
to their homeland. When Herod found out
they did not come back to him he was filled with anger and rage. If he couldn’t pinpoint the exact location he
would kill every baby boy in Bethlehem!
Before he can succeed an angel warns Joseph in another dream and tells
him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.
They flee. The soldiers arrive in
Bethlehem and carry out their ghastly orders.
It’s the horrific precursor to Newtown.
Madness. Death. Horrific loss. Unimaginable pain.
Let’s whittle it down to the bare bones. God puts a sign in the sky proclaiming His
Son’s imminent birth. The Magi see it,
correctly interpret it, and travel to Jerusalem. They inform Herod of their quest and
intentions. Herod murders all the boys
in Bethlehem under age 2 while Jesus and His parents escape. Not too many people look at Christmas that
way do they?
It seems to me, for people of faith, there are really only
two possibilities here:
unspeakable loss of life in Bethlehem is God’s fault. Had it not been for His sign in the heavens
the Magi would not have travelled to Jerusalem and alerted Herod. Without that happening there would be no loss
of life in Bethlehem.
path to peace is painful and heart-wrenching for everyone…including God!
Having been in the pastoral ministry for almost 28 years my
experience tells me that most churchgoers tend to number 1. Not overtly.
Maybe not even consciously.
Nonetheless, I have found many Christians harbor great animosity over
all the painful things God failed to intervene in and stop. It’s in our nature. And it goes all the way back to Adam. When God questioned Adam about the one tree
he was forbidden to eat from Adam replied, “The woman, whom you gave to be with me…”
God created the woman. The woman
gave the forbidden fruit to Adam. God’s
fault. We repeat that line every time
innocence is lost, “Why did you let it happen God?” And every time we are personally wounded by
evil or hurt by loss we ask God why He doesn’t care.
When it comes to living in a fallen world people of faith
yearn for a magician; not a companion.
We want peace, salvation, and holiness with a Bewitched twitch of the
nose or an I Dream of Jeannie nod and blink.
Because we really don’t want the alternative: a suffering God who hurts
as much as we do, who cries like we do.
That would mean we are assured of the same.
People are fond of acting like they look forward to the day
when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). In truth, we are offended that God would
create a world where tear ducts are even necessary for the human body.
What we want is to believe that sin is merely a primitive
memory; at worst it is a pesky inconvenience.
We want to believe that pain has no place in God’s plan of salvation. We
want to believe that it is impossible for us to personally be responsible for
pain in the Godhead. What we want is to
completely absolve ourselves from any and all guilt in Eden, Bethlehem, or
Calvary. “It’s not my fault. I wasn’t there.”
God was and could have prevented it.
Here are some things we try not to think about. Mary and Joseph lived the rest of their lives
under the shadow of shame and dishonor.
The gossip about Mary’s supposed sexual tryst with another while engaged
to Joseph probably followed her all the days of her life. Didn’t God foresee that? Here is another: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all lived with the terrible
knowledge that there would have been no massacre of children in Bethlehem…had
it not been for them.
If you are looking for an easy path to peace, forgiveness,
and eternal life devoid of hurt and confusion…look anywhere but the Bible and
Christianity! Because here are the
facts. The God I know fled from Herod
weeping with the parents of the little ones who did not get away. The God I know stayed His hand of wrath every
single time small-minded evil people called Mary things that are too shameful
and disgusting to even write down. The
God I know was wracked with hurt and pain every time the Roman flagrum sunk
into His Son’s flesh ripping and tearing it. The God I know was silent as Jesus took all
the sins of the world on His own shoulders succumbing to its awful weight. And the God I know watched with tears in His
eyes as His only Son descended into hell.
The path to peace is indeed painful for everyone…even God. It does exist. Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. But He still bears the scars in His memory
and His flesh. It was a painful
How are you trying to find peace?
Ray Rooney, Jr.