It’s been a violent season.
Fifty-eight died in a mass shooting in Las Vegas during an October 1 country concert.
Three people died in a Walmart Supercenter in Thornton, Colorado on November 1 when a gunman walked into the store and began shooting randomly at customers.
Twenty-six died in a mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Sunday morning, November 5.
Five died in a shooting rampage in tiny Rancho Tehama, California on November 13 and 14.
Ninety-two lives lost plus, in some cases, the shooters themselves.
Is this any way to usher in a season of peace and joy? Is that any way to usher in Christmas?
Perhaps you’ll recall the television series M.A.S.H. which was set during the Korean War. In one episode, several wounded soldiers were brought into the 4077th surgical unit late one Christmas night. Mike Farrell played “B.J. Hunnicutt,” a surgeon who persistently treated one of the wounded soldiers even though it was clear to everyone else in the operating room that the soldier had already died. But, with an eye on the clock, B.J. kept trying to revive him. Finally, a few minutes after midnight on December 26, B.J. declared the soldier dead.
“Nobody dies on Christmas,” he explained.
Christmas is a time when we like to cover up the ugliness of sin, war and violence. And yet, the Christmas story that I read in the Bible is plopped right down in the middle of unimaginable violence. In Matthew’s Gospel, the birth of Christ is attended not by gentle shepherds, but by inquiring wise men who alert King Herod to the birth of the king of the Jews. When the wise men fail to deliver Jesus into his clutches, Herod orders the execution of all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and younger. Fortunately, an angel warns Joseph of the impending danger and he, Mary and Jesus escape to Egypt.
Herod retaliated with violence, prompting Matthew to quote the prophet Jeremiah: “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” (Mt. 2:18).
From the earliest accounts of his life among us, Jesus is willing to live among us in the midst of violence. But that’s why he came to live among us. He died a violent death to save us from the violence of sin. And even when we suffer unimaginable violence, we have the promise of eternal life.
This Christmas, my prayer is that the promise of Isaiah 9:6 will flourish: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…and he will be called…Prince of Peace.”