As I struggled to read through the news over the past couple of weeks, I have found myself thinking that the recent violence, and the subsequent bickering and politicizing, was so contrary to the spirit of Christmas, with its message of “peace on Earth and good will toward men.” Since I was a child we’ve sung “Silent Night,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and pictured serene scenes of snowy hillsides, etc. etc. Christmas is supposed to be a serene, joyful celebration, is it not?
In reality, Christmas is a very violent holiday. They say that depression and the suicide rate is up at Christmastime. This year, so were mass killings. Historically Israel has been a violent place, and it was no less violent under 1st century Roman rule. The Christmas story concerns a people in bondage, where we know that crucifixions were common by the Romans, and where adulterers were killed in the streets by the good, religious people. We read about Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem under duress, and that they were forced to deliver a baby under the most unsanitary, unpeaceful conditions. Add to that the fact that Jewish governor, Herod, ordered a mass execution of male children to try to wipe out Jesus.
Christmas is a story of how great joy (as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds) came in the midst of great turmoil, suffering and violence. So, it is perhaps not out of place that as we celebrate Christmas this year we have news of parents grieving over the loss of children and many more using this tragedy to lobby for their own causes.
It is ironic, I think, that the arguments on both sides of the 2nd Amendment only reveal that nothing has changed, that people are still under the same delusions that existed in the 1st century. Some still think that physical might changes things, and others still believe that laws will solve the problem. As the New Testament writings teach us, the reason that Jesus was born — and the reason he died — was because laws couldn’t solve anything. Much of Jesus’ message was trying to convince Israel that the Kingdom of God could not come by violence or physical might, but also could not come through keeping the law. As Paul says, the law was given so that sin would increase.
Ain’t that the truth.
If anything, Christmas should remind us that violence and suffering exist because of sin. And so Christmas itself exists because of sin, and because of suffering, and because of loneliness, and because of the darkness that surrounds us. It’s because of these things that we need to celebrate Christmas.
“the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16 ESV)
The world can be a depressing, sad, evil, scary place. These days I hear people asking, “Where was God?”
The answer, of course, is retold every Christmas.