Massacre of the Innocents

It was just over a week ago that a madman with a gun entered Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Most of us watched in shocked disbelief as details of the tragedy were revealed. There is a lot about this tragedy that remains unclear. What is clear is that twenty precious 6 and 7 year old were murdered that day. What is also clear is that six brave women died trying to protect those children. It is also clear that the police responded so quickly that many other children were spared. We will likely never know the real reason the killer targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School. And if we ever do know motive, it wouldn’t make any sense— you can’t make sense of the senseless!

The ultimate reason for the tragedy is that we live in an evil, fallen, and broken world. It’s a world so evil that people think they need to stockpile guns in order to protect themselves. It’s is world so fallen that those guns are sometimes used against their owners or other innocent people. It is a world so broken that too often the mentally ill cannot get the help they desperately need. We are hearing calls for outlawing the type of assault weapon used by this killer, for armed guards in our schools that could have stopped this killer, and more ways to address the mental illness that drove this killer. Let’s try everything, but let’s know one thing-- evil and darkness will never be totally prevented because we live in a dark and evil world.

Several have suggested that this shooting just feels worse than some of the other tragedies—like Columbine, Aurora and even 9-11. It was worse because it was innocent little children. It was worse because it was right before Christmas. Josh Graves wrote a great blog right after the shooting—

 Now, we come to the end of words. And we wait-- in Silence and Anger and Total Confusion. The end of words, the worst place to be—but the most honest. The only choice is really no choice at all. There are no words.

This would have been a horrific tragedy at any time, but its timing right before Christmas seems to have made it worse. One of the children huddled in a tiny bathroom with his teacher and his whole class and listening to the gunshots said, “I don't want to die; I want to have Christmas.” There are twenty families that have stockings hung and trees trimmed, but who won’t have Christmas this year; they feel like they will never have it again. We live in a broken world, but how could there be such a slaughter of innocents right before Christmas.

But sadly, that’s in the original Christmas story, isn’t it? When the Magi followed their star to find the newborn “King of the Jews,” it made sense that they would stop in Jerusalem to ask Herod, who was the current “King of the Jews.” OK, these supposed “wise guys” were from out of town, so they didn’t know Herod or his methods. Herod was “King of the Jews” because he successfully eliminated all of his rivals. He had executed his first wife (without the messiness of a trial) and had executed two of his sons 2-3 years before the Magi’s visit. Herod was very interested about this newborn king, but not out of a desire to worship him (Matt 2:7-8).

The Magi do worship the child, but they don’t report back to Herod. It is right here that our the story of the “first Christmas” starts to sound recent headlines and our present Christmas (Matt 2:13-16). Herod can’t find the child, so he decides in his madness to kill all the male under two years old. Bethlehem was a small village, so how many families would have had baby boys of that age? Ten? Twenty? Can we imagine twenty families losing their child to a murderous madman? OK, we can imagine. Matthew captures Bethlehem’s anguish with a quote from Jeremiah (Matt 2:17-18). Jeremiah’s laments is originally over the Babylonian captivity; Matthew sees a dual-fulfillment lament over the dead children of Bethlehem. Maybe we can as well; maybe we can see in these words the laments of families in Newtown grieving over their dead children.

The world into which Jesus was born was a world of darkness and evil… and it still is. And both the light of promise and the darkness of death are seen in the story of the birth of Jesus

  • Light: Angelic announcement of angles and bright shining star to the Magi 
  • Darkness: It was also announced in the slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem. 

It shouldn't surprise that darkness is part of Christmas. Darkness was why Jesus came! The Babe of Bethlehem was born to be the Christ of the cross. He came to face our evil. It should not surprise us that this evil rose up and tried to kill Him as a baby. And when it missed Him, it killed many other innocent babies. And evil is still killing innocent babies.

Peace on earth and good will toward men? That has become the “true meaning of Christmas” for many of us.  We are more joyous, jovial and jolly this time of the year.  We are more giving and forgiving.  Peace on earth is supposed to be that Christmas is about, right?  Well, Jesus did come to give us peace (see John 14:27, Phil 4:6-7), but this is a peace with God that leads to a peace within. But Jesus never promised to make the world a safe place for us where we all just get along. In fact, we can take in on authority that Jesus never promised to bring peace on earth, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). In this world, there will always be wars and rumors of war (Matt 24:6). And sometimes not only will we suffer despite our faith; we will suffer because of our faith (1 Pet. 4:12). The peace we have is a peace that comes from God despite the conflict, suffering and evil that we experience in our broken world. Jesus promises peace, but he also promises trouble, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The true meaning of Christmas is not that evil will never happen but that it will never reign. Immanuel. God with us. Through Him, we can have peace despite the darkness of our world. That darkness was seen in the massacre of the innocents after the birth of Jesus.  That darkness was seen a week ago Friday in another massacre of the innocents.  All we can do is repeat Jeremiah's lament as we look to the God who reigns despite the darkness.  Max Lucado offered this Christmas prayer a few days after the shooting.

The world seems a bit darker this Christmas, but then you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. It was dark. Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won't you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We are looking for a star. We are kneeling at a manger. This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.