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A lament for 2016 and hope for 2017

Matthew 2:13–23

16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

(read the whole passage)

It’s still Christmas, the 8th day. Yet, the magic of the season that we normally carry with us through New Year’s never really landed for us this year. The tragic stories of this past year kept coming at us, even on Christmas Day. More celebrity deaths, more conflict around the globe, more political messes. A fragile ceasefire is finally holding in Syria on the eve of 2017.

And so with the hopes that this year might be different, that a new and different number on the end of our dates will bring something different to the world.

So it can feel like an ominous sign when Matthew gives us the darkest of Christmas stories today, the commemoration of the Holy Innocents.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, of all the toddlers and babies in Bethlehem, is not an easy story to hear. Our hearts can ache simply hearing about the death of children, we just know, somewhere deep inside of us, that this is unbearably sad. There is no need to compare it to the tragedies of human history that have followed since. We know what the slaughter of children was like for that town of Bethlehem, because it has not stopped. Children die each day, all over the world, of hunger, war, disease and poverty. This is not just an entire community in grief and mourning, it is a whole world. A world now even more desperate for a Messiah.

Today, on the 8th Day of Christmas, Jeremiah speaks for us all:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

Jeremiah’s words first expressed the grief of the people, the mothers of Israel, as they wept for their children who had been taken away to exile in Babylon. They are words that the people of Bethlehem would have known. But they now carry new meaning as they are stamped again to the hearts of the mothers of Bethlehem. Tragedy upon tragedy. Heartbreak upon Heartbreak.

The words that have been stamped upon the heats of parents again and again through time. Last year it was the parents of Aleppo, the mothers whose babies suffer from Zika, mothers whose grief is too much to bear even when their daughter is 60 years old and has lived a life in the Hollywood spotlight.

The darkness is still lingering in our world.

Yet….

Yet….

Yet… Jeremiah’s words do not go unheard. The weeping of Rachel and of all the mothers of Israel is not ignored. God speaks to this suffering. God speaks to the people that Jeremiah first wrote to, God speaks to the mothers of Behtlehem and God speaks to all who know tragedy, pain and loss.

Thus says the Lord:

Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
17 there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.

17 there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
   your children shall come back to their own country.

God has not forgotten the cries of his people, and God’s messiah, Christ has come into the world for a purpose.

The newborn Messiah does not escape to Egypt. Instead, the Messiah travels the path of his people. The Messiah goes down the roads they have traveled and gathers his people along the way.

Just as the nation of Israel fled from Pharaoh in the Exodus, so too will the Messiah follow their path to Egypt and back to the promised land.

And just as the exiles of Jeremiah’s day returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the Messiah is also on his way to Jerusalem.  Egypt and Babylon are just the beginning of the Messiah’s journey and the Messiah becomes Israel’s journey.

As the Messiah escapes to Egypt it is truly only a delay of King Herod’s order for death.  The destination of Messiah, from the moment he laid in the manger, and was worshipped by shepherds and magi, is the cross. Christ the Messiah is going to the land of the dead.

This is the hope, this is the promise that the Lord speaks to the people of Israel. This is the promise that is beneath the star, that is born into the stable, that is in the little baby in Mary’s arms. The promise is not just a baby, but a baby that will die. But not just die, but that will rise again. But that will not just rise again, but who will bring us back from the land of the enemy, who will call us to rise from our graves too.

Today is the first day of a new year, hopefully a different year after the difficulties of the last one. Matthew’s Christmas story is an ominous beginning. And while we may have hope for 2017, things look bleak. The world seems to be headed into a period of darkness, or put another away, the relative stability of past decades may be something we are leaving behind.

And still, it in to this troubled world that God comes to us… God comes to us as a baby shining light into our darkness. 

17 there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
   your children shall come back to their own country.

Christ, the Baby Messiah, born in a stable manger, has come into our world, to bring us out of the land of the enemy. To pull us from the chaos from the despair of grief and loss, from tombs where we do not belong. And Christ shall bring us back to our home, back to the love God.

This is is the promise of Christ’s coming. This is the Hope that the Angels proclaimed. This is the Good News of Great Joy that was given to the Shepherds, and that has been passed on to us this day.


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4 thoughts on “A lament for 2016 and hope for 2017”

  1. Once again you’ve shown me perspectives I hadn’t thought of, but appreciate being exposed to. After reading and pondering your message two thoughts persist: a verse from one of my grandfather’s favorite hymns, “Draw me closer Lord to thee” and Simon Peter’s comment “To whom shall we go Lord you have the words of eternal life.” So I will plod forward trying to remember “Christ has come into our world to bring us out of the land of our enemy.” Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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