12/28/2016 12:31:09 PM
A Day of Weeping and Great Mourning
December 7, the day “which will live in infamy”; June 6th, the day of heroism. September 11, “We will never forget”; Why do we remember these days? Those are days of tragedy when so many lost their lives, why do we commemorate them?
Today, December 28, is a day of commemoration for the Christian Church. We call it “Holy Innocents.” Here is what happened: The Magi came into Jerusalem asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” Matthew tells us, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod was a jealous man. Herod, who was a vassal of Rome, was insecure. It seems all the people of Jerusalem knew what kind of man Herod was and feared what he might do. After the Magi went to Bethlehem and found the child, God told them not to go back and tell the king where he was. They returned by another route. God then told Joseph in a dream, “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
That is exactly what happened. Herod realized the Magi weren’t coming back. He realized that they weren’t going to tell him about the child. He wasn’t a man who dealt with disappointment well. Matthew says, “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.
Consider the cause of this tragedy: God prophesied about the sending of the Messianic king. He told his prophets where he would be born. He sent his Son to be born in Bethlehem. He placed a star in the heavens to tell the Magi he had come. Their visit shook Jerusalem and set Herod down his murderous path. Then God warned them to go to return by another route. Without specific information, Herod didn’t just give up, he ordered all the baby boys killed. All those innocent babies died in the first years of their lives. Their mothers wept, just as Jeremiah said they would, “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.” Why?
Often when a tragedy happens, we wonder, why? We try to give meaning to those days, so that we don’t forget those who lost their lives. We put up memorials. We record their stories. We remember. But the why remains unanswered.
On “Holy Innocents” we know how and why. At first glance it seems like we have very good reason to blame God. God, through the prophets, gave Herod the intel about the King of the Jews. God, through the Magi and the star, alerted him to the King’s presence. God sent the Magi on another route. God sent Jesus to safety, but gave no warning to all the other mothers. Those mothers wept bitterly because God brought this tragedy on them.
Doesn’t it often feel that way? Doesn’t it seem like sometimes the stars are aligned against us? Or put more accurately like God is somehow plotting against us. You run late and get a flat tire, or pulled over for speeding. You lose your job and then a loved one gets sick. A series of unfortunate events combine to turn your life upside down and fill you with misery. When we weep, we might question God. Why does he let this happen? Or even, why did God make this happen? The “why” doesn’t ever seem to get answered.
It sometimes seems to us that God causes evil to come into our lives, but that’s not the truth. Sin brings evil into our lives. Herod was an evil sinful man. The soldier who obeyed his terrible rage were sinful. We live in a sinful world, and sin brings destruction wherever it is found. This is the cause of our own tragedies. Sometimes the sin of others radically changes our lives. Sometimes our own sins come back to haunt us for years to come. Sometimes the deeper ravages of sin, our mortality and weakness, enter our lives at the worst times. Even when no specific sin brings pain (we don’t usually get sick because we did something wrong), all sickness, heartache, sorrow, and death come from sin.
On Holy Innocents, King Herod and his heartless command personify sin for us. Sin always rages against God. Sin always destroys lives. Sin and the evil hearts in which it resides will always fight against God’s goodness, and they don’t care who gets hurt.
On Holy Innocents, we also see how sin corrupts and twists and tries to destroy all the good things of God. God didn’t give his promise of a Messiah to anger King Herod. God didn’t tell his people where he would be born to put the children of Bethlehem at risk. God didn’t spare Jesus because he loved him more than those other babies in Bethlehem. God did all of those things for the salvation of the world. Throughout his life, the Devil and sinful men would try to destroy Jesus and God’s plan of salvation, but they could not overcome him; they could stop God’s love.
On Holy Innocents, our hearts break with those women who lost their children in Bethlehem. Today is a good day for us to think of those who have suffered heartbreaking loss in this year, almost passed. Today is a good day to say a prayer for them, to do something to comfort them, and to acknowledge their pain. Today is a good day to reflect on sin, especially our own sins, and see the destruction it brings to those around us. Today, and every day, we need to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness.
We commemorate days of great tragedy as a way to cope with the pain this world brings. Although we don’t know the exact date Herod gave his heartless order, we pause a few days after Christmas to remember this tragedy, and in it, we remember why Jesus came. Jesus came to defeat sin and offer comfort to all who suffer under it. Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil. Jesus came to judge those, like Herod, who shed innocent blood. Jesus came to bring comfort to all who weep; In him we find perfect healing. In him, we find eternal life. Today, we remember our hope in every tragedy.
To God Alone be Glory.