Rachel Weeping

December 17, 2012

An influential figure in the Christmas story who remains missing from most Christmas nativity sets is Herod. His reign helps set the tone for the repressive imperial context into which Jesus is born--and thus a time when people were waiting, hoping, groaning for the Messiah to come. Herod's encounter with the magi is also important as they learn where Jesus was born and he unleashes a deadly plot that results in the murder of innocent baby boys (a plan that also leads Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to flee to Egypt). Although he is not a happy figure and his deeds are not pleasant to think about at anytime--but especially at Christmastime--Herod is still an important figure in the story. Last year, I noted a blog post a former professor of mine wrote that mentioned the importance of Herod's role in the Christmas story even though we do not usually act out fully his part out in our happy church plays. In the post, Rodney Reeves writes:

And, we turn our eyes away from the tragedy because everyone knows Christmas is about warm feelings, nostalgic recollections, and serenity in the midst of chaos (often a chaos of our own creation). And yet, somehow I find myself drawn to Matthew's story. Not because I have some peculiar desire for dwelling on the macabre realities of life. No, somehow I find hope knowing that, even when Jesus was born, there were people in Bethlehem screaming, "Where is God?" Rachel mourning for her children. Mary probably grieved over the news down in Egypt. After all, these women were a part of their little community; friends who shared stories and daily chores. Their children played together. Such news may have even compelled Mary to ask the same question in the face of such human suffering, "God, where are you?" He's a vulnerable baby, hiding out in Egypt, waiting for a wicked king to die.
There is something about that part of the Christmas story that especially resonates this Christmas season. Where is God? Why were those children slaughtered? Why, God why? As the prophet Jeremiah wrote and Matthew quoted after Herod's slaughter:
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
Rachel is weeping for her children in Connecticut this Christmas. Rachel is weeping for her children in Iraq this Christmas. Rachel is weeping for her children in Syria this Christmas. Rachel is weeping for her children in Haiti this Christmas. Rachel is weeping for her children in Gaza this Christmas. Where are you God? Rachel is weeping for her children. We should weep for the children. We should grieve for the lost. We should ask where God is. We should hope for a better world. We should yearn for the Messiah's coming. We are captive in this mad world, so we must mourn, grieve, question, hope, and yearn. Until we capture these emotions, we cannot truly understand the meaning of the first Christmas. As the old solemn hymn reminds us:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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