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Suffering: Suffering Amid the Joy Matthew 2:13-18
It wasn't the night of the birth. It wasn't just after the shepherds had arrived (despite hundreds of TV specials and Nativity scenes that depict it otherwise). There was no hurried flight to Egypt that wonderful night. We hope there was some rest for the weary couple. So while the event we speak of today may have occurred up to two years later (by way of scholars' reasoning) it was, nevertheless, directly connected to that blessed event we know as 'The Nativity'
There was this insanely jealous old man ruling over Judea at the time. He so feared potential rivals that three of his own sons had already been murdered by their own "dear old dad" who saw them as potential rivals. This inspired the Roman Emperor of the day to remark that it was "safer to be Herod's swine than his son." And hearing of a newly born king, having been outwitted by men wiser than he, this suspicious old man issued his orders and here is the result:
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son. "When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "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." (Matthew 2:13-18)
Imagine it being another ordinary day in Bethlehem -- life as usual, when suddenly the clamor of approaching hoofbeats, confused shouts in the dusty lanes of the little town -- soldiers bursting into your home unannounced. There are no words of explanation, they just roughly push you aside, perhaps drawing a sword in warning to any who dared protest. And then, finding within your home, that precious baby son or grandson, two years of age or younger, just running them through before your very eyes.
No warrants.
No court of appeal.
No stay of execution.
No legal appeals, no announcement of any kind.
It just happened and those who experienced such a tragedy probably never knew why.
These are the forgotten victims of Christmas. They died because they had the misfortune of being born in the same place and at roughly the same time as the Savior. Even amid the joy of the Christmas event, there are those who suffered. With every Christmas we observe, remember that there are those who experience suffering amid the joy.
There are those who will experience their first Christmas without a loved one who passed away during the year.
There are those who have experienced a separation of one kind or another this year. Christmas will be decidedly different this time around.
There are those who are now "homebound," with home being little more than a room or part of a room in a place nobody particularly cares to be in.
There are those battling physical illness -- some who wonder if they will last till Christmas and some who wonder if this will be their last Christmas.
There are those whose sense of loneliness and despair is heightened during the holiday season. Suicide rates are higher in this time of year, breakdowns are more frequent. There is suffering amid the joy.
Karl Menninger once said that each of us has been put here to dilute the misery in the world and that even if we couldn't make a big contribution we could each do something. What will you do to alleviate the suffering amid the joy of the holiday season?
Earlier this year, in late summer, a young lady was observed walking down the road out in the vicinity of one of the prisons. Nothing too unusual about this event although some must have thought so. They were observed hurrying into their homes, being careful to secure the doors behind them. If I were to tell you she was from the inner city of Philadelphia, you'd probably guess her skin color was a bit darker than most of us here and you'd be right.
Fortunately for her, there was one family who reacted a bit differently. Some in this family were saying "It's best not to get involved" (which are strange words for Christians to utter) but seeing this look of confusion and fear on her face, one ventured to ask if she needed help and through a torrent of tears, her story came out.
She had been visiting a brother at prison and her ride home never materialized. She waited until finally prison officials asked her to leave. So here she was: Black face in a white town, without money or credit cards or a way home. Connections were made (The Salvation Army provided a bus ticket home) and the next day a grateful Mom in Philadelphia called another Mom in Somerset to express her thanks -- probably the only time someone in Philadelphia's inner city will connect with someone in Somerset. It happened because one family was willing to risk involvement and were, therefore, able to minister to someone in their time of distress.
It seems we need to be reminded constantly that this One whose birth we say we are observing, this One to whom we say we owe our dedication and allegiance -- this same One we adore in the manger, He once told a story wherein a needy traveler was ignored in his hour of need by two religious people who simply passed by They couldn't be bothered and it was the foreigner, the person who was different, the one who was usually a victim of prejudice, it was he who stopped and helped Those 2 religious figures probably thought it dangerous to help a fallen traveler, it could have even been a trap with the bandits still near by. In like manner, we also, despite knowing the parable so well, we are sometimes content to simply pass by and a little too quick to secure ourselves in our homes.
Please remember this Christmas that there is suffering amid the joy and that more often than we may imagine, there are Samaritan opportunities that come our way. There is suffering amid the joy, so be careful you don't let the Christ child himself pass you by!
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