Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Newtown and Bethlehem

Reactions to Newtown Shootings
I'm afraid lifelong, American Christians treat Christmas with at least two false assumptions:

The first false assumption is that (maybe due to carols like Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Angels We Have Heard on High) we assume nothing bad was going on when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Somehow it must have been more tranquil and God chose that time in history because life was simpler and less violent. Nothing like what happened in Newtown was anything like reality to those who lived at the time of Jesus' birth.

The second false assumption is that God worked differently then than now. We assume that when Jesus was born everything immediately changed, Jesus grew up blissfully, and the Kingdom of Heaven eventually came on earth until we are in Heaven. God protected the just and the ways of God became embedded in the hearts of humans forever more.

These assumptions about the Christmas story are false, and they cause us to miss how Jesus' birth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago speaks directly to the horrors of the Newtown shootings.

Things were bad when Jesus was born. Read for yourself the history of Israel during the time of Roman rule, the Maccabees, and 50  years either side of Jesus' birth. Things were brutal, and life was expendable for political and military gain. Pompey the Great (d. 48 B.C.) laid siege to Jerusalem and entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple while slaughtering 12,000 in the process. The biblical story tells us that Herod the Great (d. 4 B.C.), having heard from the Magi of the birth of a king in Bethlehem, had all the two-year-old boys killed in the area. (Matthew 2:16) Jesus' family fled to Egypt to hide from Herod's goon squads.

Jesus was born into a world like ours, and that's the point. God did not wait for some tranquil, non-violent span of history to insert His Son to offer some other-worldly, idyllic reality. God sent His Son into human suffering and violence to demonstrate the power of love over evil, eternal life over death, and God's reign over the rule of human evil.

God works now as when Jesus was born. How? God enters evil. God identifies with the weak and wounded. God comforts the mourning. God loves the shot and the shooter. Jesus came to redeem and restore Creation damaged by the Pompeys, Herods, and the Adam Lanzas, fill in the blank with the worst act that comes to mind of our world.

The story of Christmas is the story of God entering our violent, evil-infected world in the person of His Son, Jesus, so we may know the power of love over weapons, forgiveness over revenge, and sacrifice over self-preservation. 

We can have hope in Newtown because Hope was born in Bethlehem.

Tell the Christmas Story. (Luke 2:1-20) Jesus' birth led to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, and that is what we put our trust in during days like these.

1 comment:

Tammy said...

Great post Gene and sobering perspective that horrendous and unspeakable violence is the disease of our fallen world. Finding peace in times like these comes from knowing intimately the only ONE who can bring peace to our hearts and souls in the midst of such chaos and confusion. HE HIMSELF is our PEACE (Ephesians 2:14) and when we grow in our relational intimacy with God we can find that peace that "surpasses human understanding" even in times like these.