A Child Is Born, God Is With Us
In the Christian lectionary, the massacre of the innocents doesn’t happen until the day after Christmas. There we read about Herod’s attempt to eliminate a potential threat to his rule by killing infants who were under 2 years of age. From moments of glory—angels singing and magi offering gifts—the story quickly takes frightening turn. Matthew’s text (2:18) uses the words of an earlier prophet to tell this story, quoting Jeremiah 31:15. The earlier prophet recalls the joy of the people and their God who acts like a shepherd to them, but by verses 15 and 16, the story in Jeremiah also takes a dramatic turn. The women are grieving.
Like the mothers and sisters and aunts and grandmothers of biblical history, women around the world grieve. Women in Connecticut. Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Women in Philippines. Women in Pakistan. Violence is everywhere. We will continue to debate its cause and its triggers: mental illness and lack of treatment, glorification of violence, easy access to powerful weapons—the analyses vary. What we know is that innocents are gone from our love and care. Hopes are extinguished.
At noontime December 14 United Methodist Women staff were celebrating at our staff Christmas party. It was as time of togetherness and music and food. I loved holding young Henry David (born this May) with the excuse that it would allow his mother, staff editor Tara Barnes, to eat lunch. Only en route back to the office did I read about the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. My arms were still warm from the sleeping child, and my stomach and my heart were sick. It was as quick and unexpected an emotional shift as the prophet makes in Jeremiah 31. In one verse Israel is blessed and protected and in the next its women lament a massacre.
Isn’t this always the way losses overtake us? Our focus on the power and benevolence of God is interrupted by the reality of sickness and evil and vulnerability.
What we know, without doubt, is that God is with us. The power of the Christ child, born on Christmas day, is God’s demonstration that love takes risks. Though this love appeared to be weak, it was not limited by taking human form. The love of God is made real through this human couple who step into extraordinary roles and say yes to being part of the drama of God’s love. They said yes, and nothing will ever be the same again.
May we hear the voice of God in our own dreams and may we have the courage to respond. May it be unto me as thou hast said. May we sustain both weeping and joy in the confidence that God is with us—Immanuel.
Harriett Olson is General Secretary and CEO for United Methodist Women.