Every December 24, my church community comes together for Christmas Eve worship services that, among other things, tell the story of Jesus’ birth.
Our version of the story has the journey to Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, the barn, baby Jesus laid in a manger, a star, the Magi visiting and presenting gifts to the newborn king.
And that’s where we usually end it.
But there is more to the story.
Matthew’s gospel, the story with the Magi from the East following a star, doesn’t end there. Joseph and Mary are warned to flee because the baby is in danger. The Magi, rather than going back to King Herod to report to him where they found his newborn rival, also take flight.
The king realizes he’s been deceived. Enraged, Herod then massacres all the children in Bethlehem.
Matthew then quotes the prophet Jeremiah:
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.
Hardly the sentiment of our Christmas Eve services. So we simply omit this part of the story.
After the horrific, deeply disturbing massacre of children and teachers at Newtown, Connecticut last Friday, my mind immediately went to this expunged part of the Christmas story.
Bringing children into this brutal world is a courageous, hopeful act.
President Obama spoke eloquently of this at an interfaith service in Newtown this past Sunday evening. He said:
“With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves—our child—is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we can’t always be there for them. They’ll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.”
The vulnerability to accident or cruelty, the caution and anxiety of exposure to harm, is written into the story of the birth of a child so many are celebrating this time of year. The urge to shield these precious, innocent lives that are in mortal danger without our protection is part of the Christmas story. Weeping and fear are mixed in with joy and laughter at the arrival of a child.
We—individually and collectively—are the guardian angels of the children in our midst. My hope for all of us this Christmas is for us to dedicate ourselves to doing everything we can so that the most vulnerable among us not ever be exposed to murderous brutality and malevolence.
May we hold our children close even as we know we must entrust them to a world beyond ourselves, a world not always of our own making. And let us do everything in our power to make the world into which we release our children a world of peace.