It should come as no surprise that those days that focus on great joy can also be days filled with sorrows and with people who refuse to be consoled. After all, holidays add their own tensions to already tense family situations. They add to our busyness and to our feelings of helplessness. They magnify our loneliness whether that is due to family who cannot be with us or loved ones who are gone. Sometimes, truth to be told, we are relieved when it is all over.
It was that way in Bethlehem. Herod’s anger erupted against Jesus but Jesus was nowhere to be found. The women of Bethlehem suffered when Herod murdered every male child who had not yet reached his third birthday. So a voice was heard in Bethlehem – not the sound of happiness or parties or gifts exchanged but of weeping. The weeping and wailing mothers of Bethlehem refused to be consoled. They found no comfort in the promise that their boys were with God. They blamed God. Why did God not warn their own husbands as He warned Joseph? Why did God not prevent this tragedy? Why must they suffer when it was Jesus Herod sought and not their own sweet boys? Does it sound familiar? And we wonder why God is blamed for every moment of suffering, every tear of loss, and every pain of death? So it is with the daughters of Eve. It is God’s fault.
That is what we learned from our first parents. It is God’s fault. It is always God’s fault. Never mind the good things that God has done and still gives, when we are sad or wounded it is God’s fault. Are we so different from the mothers of Bethlehem? Do we refuse consolation, preferring instead to live with our bitterness and resentment? Do we love to blame anyone and everyone and especially God for all that befalls us? Think how easy it is for us to lay our complaints before God and to forget the good things of His love and mercy. We insist upon being happy and in being given the freedom to define what it is that makes us happy and when it does not come, it must be God’s fault.
Read the history of God’s people. The lives of the saints, both Old Testament and New, are filled with tears and loss. One of the sons of Adam murdered his brother and left Adam and Eve to the broken heart over both. Abraham watches his and Sarah’s bodies age until the hope of a son almost fades away completely. Withered and blind, Jacob blesses the wrong grandson and Joseph is unhappy that God has chosen Ephraim over Manasseh. David buries the son he conceived in sin with Bathsheba. Moses leads the people of God within sight of the Promised Land and dies without entering it. I could go on. I don’t need to – you have your own disappointments to add to the list of the ways God has failed you.
But that is the point. God has not failed you. God is not to blame for all that has wounded you. God is not the cause of evil but Him who rescues us from evil and its end of death. He does so not by the rescue of a moment but by the sacrifice of His only Son. You do not have a God of the dead but of the living. Abraham, Moses, and those little boys of Bethlehem live. So if those moms suffered a lifetime on earth mourning their sons, they have by now enjoyed thousands of years with them in heaven and still more in the eternity God has prepared for those whom He loves. Rachel refuses to be comforted but that is not because God has not brought comfort. That is because God’s comfort was refused in order to preserve anger, bitterness, and hate.
What does the Scripture say? Our present sufferings cannot compare with the weight of glory to be revealed to us. Do you believe that? Jesus did not escape death but was preserved for the death to come. Jesus was not subject to a quick death of soldier’s sword but His life was preserved from this moment so that it might hang for hours on cross, enduring suffering, shame, rejection, and death before the world for whom He died. Jesus escaped nothing but was preserved to meet the future the Father’s love had required and Jesus willingly endured for your sake and mine.
Friends, I know you are sad and wounded. I know some of your homes are empty and your hearts are broken. I know that life has not been kind to you. But God is not the cause of your problems. God is your answer. You may think that forgiveness is not much in the face of the loss of a spouse or child or parent but God’s gift to you IS the means by which that loss is restored in heaven. Forgiveness does not erase all the hurts and complications of this mortal life but it preserves you and those who die in Christ for a life that comes only to the forgiven, who have been washed in Christ’s blood and set upon the path of everlasting life. You may be hurting but you are not without hope.
This is Christmas. God is here in the midst of all the ruins of our lives and the pains and losses we suffer. God is here preserving us even in our pain to deliver to us everlasting life. You belong to Him. All who are baptized have His promise. You are made righteous in Christ. Your past is forgiven and you are granted a new and eternal future in Christ. Your life does not lead to the dead end of death but to the way of life. And this is given you not because you deserve it or because you are worth it but only because of the generosity of our Lord, because of the riches of His grace, and because of the kindness of His mercy. God loves you.
So for now the world will insult you and life will wound you but none of these can take from you what Christ was born and died to give you. For now sin will come easy and holiness will be hard but you are forgiven and declared righteous in Christ.
For now you must wait for that day when the mysteries of God will be revealed but it is by the mystery of this bread that is His body and this wine that is His blood that you are kept and sustained to the day when Christ shall display all that is now hidden. For now you are like the watchman at his lonely post waiting for the morning light to be relieved of his duty. But do not give up. The morning and the day of Christ is coming.
This is Christmas. So do not refuse God’s consolation. Do not reject His comfort. Do not belittle His gift. Do not choose bitterness over hope, anger over peace, and sorrow over joy. Do not stew in your discontent and turn away God’s gift of contentment and peace. That is the struggle of Christmas. It is not about keeping up the charade of perfect families who always get along and fairy tale lives that always have happy endings. It is about grasping hold of the manger while sorrows come, joining your voice to the angels when your heart wants to curse God, and watching and waiting when all you really want to do is give up. This is Christmas.
The boys of Bethlehem were not sacrificed to save Christ but were victims of the world’s hate for all that belongs to God. God did not abandon them but rescued them for a life better than the best life this world can give. They praised God not by living but by dying and what Herod meant for evil, God rescued for heaven, for peace, and for joy. Their moms did not want to accept it but they understood it. So do you. You are like them victims who suffer for the sins of others as others suffer for your sins, who sit in sadness while the world parties away, and who grieve with wounded hearts all the brokenness of this life. But God is with you. Christ the infant was kept from Herod’s anger to die at the hands of Pilate, in the moment ripe with redemption for Bethlehem’s boys and Clarksville’s widows. You are not without hope. Christ was preserved to become your sacrifice for sin on the cross and the first born of the grave to rescue you from death.
So Merry Christmas. God is there in the worst moments of your life. He will break your pride to bring you to repentance. He will empty you in order to fill you with heaven’s grace. He will put to death your sinful life in baptism so that you might be raised to new and everlasting life in Christ. He will lay your body in the grave only to reach in and raise it up glorious on the last day. God does not ignore your pain but wears it all. Do not refuse His comfort or His joy. You will only hurt yourself. For the Lord has already forgiven you your stubborn refusal of His mercy. My friends, you have hope. And this hope will not disappoint you. Amen.