When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more. (Matthew 2:13-18)
Three days after we celebrate the rose of Christmas, comes a shocking and brutal Gospel. The slaughter of innocent children by the order of an enraged Herod. The suffering that occurred that day had to be beyond measure. The tears that were shed that day had to be enough to fill a dry stream bed.
And so we come face to face with suffering. The universal affliction. In some way, each of us has been touched by suffering. Regardless of the event, it took a piece of our heart. Certainly, the universal suffering brought by the pandemic has touched all of us – if not directly then by our awareness of the lives lost around us.
Suffering. Why? Surely, God can stop suffering. Surely, God can stop death. Surely, God can intervene in cataclysmic events. By every measure, the answer is yes. Yet, there is suffering. Suffering is indeed a mystery. No explanation seems to satisfy our human craving to understand. What does Paul the Apostle mean when he says: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)?
A simple refection on our Christian beliefs reminds us that suffering is an integral part of our lives. It was through the suffering, death and humiliation of God’s son that our salvation was won. Mary was blessed to be the Mother of the Son of God but that blessedness become a sword which pierced her heart as her Son died upon the cross. Our Christian history is peopled by innumerable men, women and children who have given their life for their belief in Jesus Christ – from that day when the Holy Innocents were slaughtered to the present day.
The tears fell then and now. Sometimes our tears are the only and most authentic part of ourselves we have to offer God. They are all we have. They are who we are. In those times they are our prayer, the tether between us and God. The presence of our tears in the tragic is as important as the presence of God. They are where God’s life and our life intersect. Our tears also bring hope.
Jesus promised his disciples that “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). The Lord gives us a supernatural joy which ultimately enables us to bear any sorrow or pain and which neither life nor death can take away. We come to live with our sorrow because of our belief that Jesus Christ will welcome us. He will welcome the husband, son, brother, loved one to His Kingdom. He will give strength to the sick and the afflicted. He will whisper hope in the ears of the persecuted or the homeless immigrant. He will remind us that he was born to die for us!
Christmas is about the One who would ultimately give up his own life to save everyone else. The wider story does not end in death. At the end of the day, life triumphs because the very little Jesus who elicited this firestorm of hatred from the sinful people of this world found a way to unmake hatred and violence from the inside out. By letting himself get caught up in this world’s web of violence and deceit, of death and destruction, he managed to defeat these powerful forces in a way brute force itself could never have done. Jesus’ birth right in the middle of this world’s suffering is our hope.
In Jesus Christ, God comes to us, meets us where we are, and calls to us places we never imagined we might go.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, you gave your life for my sake, to redeem me from slavery to sin and death. Help me to carry my cross with joy that I may willingly do your will and not shrink back out of fear or cowardice when trouble besets me.”
This birth—the birth of Jesus is the very power that transforms our world, even in its madness, into a song of creation. Even at the bottom of our despair we are offered through the birth of this precious child—this new mercy offered to the world in Jesus Christ. The cacophonous anxiety heard in our fearful world of pharaohs and Herods is silenced by the birth of hope and the promise of mercy that comes in this child. The love and mercy of God, not the power of human authority, will have its way. Neither Herod of the empire nor the raw power of death will stop the future given us in God’s mercy. In the messiness of our lives, in the bleak midwinter of our lives, Christ comes.