Matthew 2: 16 - 18 tells the story of Herod's slaughter of innocent children. Herod, in his anger against the wise men and because of his fear of Christ's birth, sends his troops to kill all the infant boys living in Bethlehem. It is an echo of Pharaoh's slaughter of Israelite boys in the Book of Exodus. It is a foreshadowing of over 120 children killed in Islamabad, Pakistan. It is a tragic, violent story that feels antithetical to the "Christmas spirit."
Of course, this is why we don't tell this story very often; this is why the day for Feast of the Innocent's is rarely celebrated. Stories of the killing of children are not stories we embrace or seek to tel, especially not at Christmas. Instead, we focus, rightly so, on birth, especially the birth of Christ. We joyfully celebrate God's coming among us and the many, many implications that has on our lives. Matthew, though, does not want us to forget. Remember, Matthew seems to say, remember that there are dark places in our world. Remember that the brokenness of humanity, our desires for power and control, are real. Remember that Jesus' life is a response to the violent corruption of creation. And we should not forget. We must recognize and weave together these two sides of the story: the joyful birth and life of Christ, and the reality of corrupt power, violence, and death.
McLaren finds a way to weave these two sides of the story together. He writes,
"[we must] grapple with what we believe about God. Does God promote or demand violence? Does God favor the sacrifice of children for the well-being of adults? Is God best reflected in the image of powerful old men who send the young and vulnerable to die on their behalf? Or is God best seen in the image of a helpless baby, identifying with the victims, sharing their vulnerability, full of fragile but limitless promise?"Our theology, what we believe about God, directly impacts our behavior and what we teach others about God. Is it the will of God that Jesus die on the cross? Or is it the will of God that Jesus' violent death is redeemed by the empty tomb? Is it the will of God that Herod murder those innocent children? Or does God weep with those who love them, and for our corrupt desires for power and violence? Is it the will of God that we compete with one another, no matter the cost, for physical and emotional power? Or does God yearn for us to practice compassion, mercy, and vulnerability? Our answers to these questions shape the way we live, our relationships, and, inevitably, our world.
Unicef recently declared 2014 as one of the worst years for children stating that up to 15 million children live in areas entangled in violent conflict. In our own county, as many as 25% of our children are hungry. Do we believe this is God's will for creation? Can we imagine that God calls us to respond, to be bearers of Christ's life in the world? Can we boldly offer a different response to Christ's birth, and life among us, than Herod's act of violent, corrupt power? Will we continue to sacrifice children on behalf of our self-interests, our desire for power and control? Or will we sacrifice our desires for the sake of our children? These are hard questions in the midst of Christmas. And yet, our answers will lead us either to Christ's manger or Herod's castle.