16 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. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “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.”
I don't know about you, but I don't like this story. This story makes me feel anger and rage at such injustice. Quite frankly, in some ways it spoils the birth story of Jesus for me. In fact, most preachers, like to skip this part of Matthew 2. Who could blame them! There is a devotional I came across recently that was 28 days spent in Matthew’s gospel, yet this passage was skipped over. I, too, thought about passing over these couple of verses. However, this story of Herod's brutal paranoia and fear shocks us awake, with a reality we would rather not think about. Yet it also helps us understand why Jesus had to come.
One thing I do not like to acknowledge but know is true is that we human beings sometimes show a remarkable inclination for brutality. I believe we see this when our world loses sight of the preciousness of each person created in the image of God.
The slaying of the innocent children in our reading today reminds us of how easily we can slip into a state of mind that puts personal protection, reputation, and position above the rights of those who are vulnerable and powerless.
Just because Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, that doesn't mean he came to a secure, safe, and perfect world. Nor does it mean that Jesus as God with us, was somehow insulated from the realities of evil unleashed among us. This sometimes cruel and brutal world awaited him too.
Perhaps this is the message at the core of the story. Even the innocents are not protected, even if that innocent is God among us. When we follow the story of Jesus through the gospels, we recognize that the later events in Jesus’ life revealed this to be true. This is yet another piece of what the incarnation, God in the flesh among us means, that the one through whom everything was made, the “word” that was with God at the beginning, and who “pitched his tent among us” knows suffering, injustice, the cruelty that others can inflict on us. Remember those words from Isaiah 53 about the Messiah, the Lord’s anointed?
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Jesus, knows our experiences too. It doesn’t answer all my why? questions but this truth does give me great comfort in the difficult and hard places in life. Even in a story that is brutal like today’s Gospel, I find “tidings of comfort and joy.”
Here is a song that I was sent recently that speaks to our last two Devotions. There are not too many song that address this. May it speak to you.