Before last week a “Connecticut Christmas” would have conjured up Christmas card images: flocked evergreens, multicolored lights glistening on snow-covered streets, children sledding in the park, smoke curling from chimneys where families gather around the warm glow of the fireplace. But today, after the tragic slaughter of innocent children, a “Connecticut Christmas” leaves us chilled and confused.
As the news broke, I found myself not wanting to listen, not wanting to be disturbed by the painful images and stories. But the awful events seep their way into our consciousness. I found myself watching little children singing Christmas carols at church on Sunday and thinking about those who died in Newtown. I cannot stop thinking about the families with presents already wrapped underneath the tree and no little hands to unwrap them. I can’t help putting myself in the place of mothers and fathers whose pain is too deep for words. I find myself wanting to weep, wishing that this kind of evil were not present in the world, wishing that the innocent did not suffer, that injustice and violence did not exist. I found myself asking how God could let something like this happen.
As I thought about these things I was reminded that we have made Christmas into an escape filled with fantastic fairy tales complete with elves and flying reindeer. We have created a nativity filled with serenity and peace. But the actual birth of Jesus was anything but serene and peaceful. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem to pay taxes, thrown into unfamiliar surroundings with no place to stay. The stable was a last resort. And evil was already stalking the baby that Mary bore. What we are feeling in the wake of Connecticut is not far removed from what was felt in Bethlehem.
The Magi who came seeking the newborn King unwittingly tipped Herod off to his birth. After they refused to report his birth, Herod sent his death squad to kill him. Matthew wrote, “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. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18).
Being warned in a dream that the child Jesus was in danger, Joseph fled with Mary and the baby and went into hiding. But before he left the region, they visited Jerusalem where the prophet Simeon predicted what was to come. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).
The power of that first Christmas is found in the fact that God embraced the confusing cruelty of our world. It was in the midst of evil, pain and suffering that Jesus was born. It was precisely because of the senseless evil in this world that God sent His Son. He came to give His own innocent life as a ransom for our sins. He conquered death by His resurrection and one day He will remove the evil from this world by His return.