Day Twenty Six: Too Sad To Tell

Psalm 148
Jeremiah 31:15-17
Matthew 2:13-18

In the Godly Play enrichment lesson entitled “The Mystery Of Christmas,” older children are introduced to a part of the Christmas story that is often left out.

“It’s no wonder people do not tell this part,” the storyteller says. “It’s too sad. It’s called the Massacre of the Infants.”

Yet, our texts today will not allow us to forget the terrible killing of every baby boy under the age of two in and around the city of Bethlehem as a result of Herod hearing the Good News of the Christ-King born in the land of Judah …

… nor to callously ignore the heart-rending cries of anguish from mothers unable to be comforted as the sons that had nestled so snuggly in their arms are suddenly no more.

This is no warm, sentimental story;
but a brutal intrusion into the love, the joy, the peace
which so epitomises the natal scene –
a stark reminder of why the Light of Life
came into the world;
and of the depths of depravity and fear
and resentment
that lurk within the human heart.

It is a tale which needs to be told following the heights of angel-visitation and shepherd-worship and magi-generosity lest we romanticise the Good News to the point of it being unbelievable or irrelevant to a world in pain.

This sad story which no one really wants to remember (let alone tell) is, in fact, key to the power and the purpose of the incarnation for it reminds us that right from the start, God – in taking on human form – immersed godself fully in our fragility, our vulnerability to those who have power over us, and our tumultuous up-and-down experience of life …

… born among the animals because there was no room for him, no welcome among his people …

… now the inclusion of the prophecy of Jeremiah regarding the sounds of weeping and mourning in Ramah would have reminded those listening to the Gospel story of the place through which their forefathers had passed on their way to exile in Babylon; the reference to Rachel, the grandmother of Ephraim and Manasseh, of the unassuaged grief of the Northern Kingdom of Israel being wiped out …

… then the country of exile to which the holy family flees in response to an angel’s warning is none other than the one in which Moses too found sanctuary as a baby before having to fight for his people’s freedom ….

Before he was even old enough to utter a word, the Word was
that there might, one day,
be hope for our future

in spite of people who do atrocious things
because they are selfish,
because they are frightened,
because they are desperately trying to hold on to an illusion of power and control.

It may be difficult for us to empathise with the man who would order the slaughter of innocents in order to protect his crown, but the truth is that when we are acting from a place of selfishness or fear or the need to control, we often inflict damage upon other people through our words and the way that we act towards them.

In today’s imagining, try to picture what was going on in Herod’s mind and heart as he heard the Magi’s tidings about the Christ-King … as he waited day after day for them to return only to find out that they had deceived him. Reflect on situations in which you have felt similar emotions and how you acted from them.

What word would the grown Christ-King offer Herod? What word does he offer you? 

Day Three: for the mighty will fall

Psalm 79
Micah 4:6-13
Revelation 18:1-10

“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.”                            S.J. Watson

The prophet Micah speaks of the agony and the anguish of the Israelites as their city was invaded, their temple desecrated, their sons and daughters dragged off into captivity, their status altered from “God’s chosen people” to “prisoners” and “slaves.”

For many it seemed like the end – of their freedom, of their identity, of their story – as their enemies celebrated and gloated over their suffering.

Yet Micah likens the pain that gripped them to that of the pangs of labour: a beginning rather than an end; a moment of immeasurable suffering bringing forth an eternity of new life and indescribable joy.

This is the heart of the Good News: when things look grave and all hope is gone,
God does the unexpected
… the unimagined
… the impossible.

A shepherd boy brings down a giant with just a sling and a stone….

A prostitute and a foreigner become part of Jesus’s ancestry ….

Water is transformed into wine at a wedding and a few loaves and fishes into a feast for five thousand ….

The crucified Christ appears to his grieving disciples as the Risen Lord  ….

And, indeed, with hindsight and the help of history books we see that the Babylonian kingdom fell as prophesied; and the Persian and the Greek and the Roman ….

Recall a time in your life when it seemed like all was lost or that God was distant.

In hindsight, where was God in the midst of your pain and suffering? 

Were there any “gifts” that you might not have received if you had not gone through this “time of labour?”

How has this experience impacted your relationship with and picture of God?

It can be disheartening to witness all of the wars, the misery, the suffering and death that accompany shifts in power and changes in our natural world.

It can be even more debilitating to experience the pain of loss in our own lives –  be it a job, a loved one, a home, an aspect of our health, or an ability.

The gift of Advent in these devitalizing moments is a hope that is founded neither on wishful thinking nor unrealistic expectations of what it means to have God present and active in our lives, but on the  creative, transformative faith which develops between hindsight and foresight.

Hindsight helps us to remember and trust the  God who has been faithful in our past experiences of suffering and distress, who has brought light into the darkness and order into the chaos in our time of need.

Foresight enables us pray for that which God has promised and to work, with God, towards the justice, the forgiveness, the peace, the healing that we long for.

Babylon will fall. That which seems to have power over us will fade away. The simpler, pleasure-filled lives that we sometimes envy (and even pursue) will end in woeful lament, even as God personally gathers up the lame, the exiled, and the grieving.

What is the gift that you most long for from God today?

Are there any powers, any addictions, any habitual sins that need to fall in your life?

How might you act more from the creative space between hindsight and foresight rather than relying on how you are feeling or what is happening in a particular moment?



Day Two: Where Is Our God?

Psalm 79
Micah 4:1-5
Revelation 15:1-8

A retired accountant opens fire on a crowd of festival-goers from his hotel room in Las Vegas – over 50 dead and 500 taken to hospital emergency rooms for treatment ….

Buildings collapse in Mexico as the earth shakes. Thousands of homes are destroyed and over 360 people are pulverised and smothered by the falling debris ….

Strategic air strikes in Syria – some for domination, some for retaliation, some even in the hope of peace – result in well over 2000 deaths in the region in the month of September alone ….

A father of two returns home from a wonderful family vacation and is found a few days later, hanging in the basement ….

These are merely a few occurrences in the world today that cause people to question “where is my God?” or to curse and taunt “where is your God?”

Is there a particular moment in your life when you have wondered where God is …? 
… when you have felt abandoned or betrayed by God …? 
… when you have considered a terrible or tragic situation as the judgement or punishment of God?

Following the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, the Babylonian conquest was an unimaginable violation for the Jews – not only of their sacred places (the holy city of Jerusalem and the temple where they worshipped) but of their fundamental belief that, as God’s chosen people, they were totally untouchable.

Yet as their dead rotted in the streets without the dignity of burial, and the living were taken into captivity, they felt the scorn and derision of their neighbours keenly: their mocking question, “Where is your God?” echoed the fearful wonderings of their own hearts, “How long will God be angry with us? How long will we be punished for our sins and for the sins of our fathers?”

Reeling with the horror of what had happened and the disbelief that their mighty God would allow those who followed other gods to have victory over them, how difficult it must have been for them to hold onto the words of hope and restoration spoken by the prophets of old!

Read prayerfully through the passage from Micah 4:1-5 again.

Which promise speaks most powerfully to you?

Which image seems impossible or unbelievable given the state of the world today?

Each of today’s Advent readings invites us to examine the way that we think about the so-called “judgements” of God – none more so than the triumphant scene in heaven that John depicts in Revelation 15.

As seven angels carry seven disasters from the temple, the saved ones sing the song of the Lamb (verses 3-4, the Message):

Mighty your acts and marvelous,
O God, the Sovereign-Strong!
Righteous your ways and true,
King of the nations!
Who can fail to fear you, God,
give glory to your Name?
Because you and you only are holy,
all nations will come and worship you,
because they see your judgments are right.   

The season of Advent encourages us to give voice to our doubts, our wonderings, even our angry accusations, “God, where have you been in the midst of my/our suffering!?!” and then invites us to picture what lies beyond the crisis or the catastrophe that we are experiencing.

Salvation will come – rescue, restoration, an era of peace and plenty!

And the question, “Where is your God?” will be answered exquisitely by a personal experience of the power and presence of God acting to pull us from the muck and mess that our sin has made.