Saturday, December 29, 2018
“A Bleaker View of Christmas”
So, we’ve now moved firmly into the afterglow of Christmas Day. All of the presents have been unwrapped; most of the Christmas dinners and parties are over; we’ve been back to the malls and stores for those after-Christmas sales. We are now making preparations to celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day—sort of one last hoorah before we must begin returning to our everyday routines.
Perhaps you’re different than me. However, I find this in-between time to be something of a let-down after Christmas. For the past month, I’ve been busily preparing myself and my church for the celebration of the Messiah’s birth and the confirmation that God loves us and keeps promises made to us. With such a huge buildup, it is inevitable that there will be a corresponding let down afterwards.
Of course, life goes on. Pretty soon, New Year’s will be over and we will have to resume our daily routines. If you’re like me, then you’ll have to shake yourself out of the post-Christmas doldrums and get back into the swing of things.
The scriptural story of Jesus goes on after his birth on Christmas Day, as well. After the shepherds and Wise Men have left the stable, Mary and Joseph face an uncertain future. In my message this Sunday, December 30th, we will reflect on Matthew’s account of what happened after the first Christmas Day.
In a dream, God instructs Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt because King Herod, who rules Bethlehem, will try to kill the baby Jesus. Although he is King, Herod is a very insecure man and the prophecy of a mighty future king born in his territory terrifies Herod. After Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus leave for Egypt, Herod has all of the children, who are two years or younger, massacred in the Bethlehem area. As a result, this passage from Matthew has been traditionally called the story of the massacre of the innocents. Although there is no independent historical account of Herod’s action, it is certainly consistent with what we know about King Herod and how viciously he exercised his powers as king.
Most Biblical scholars agree that from Matthew’s perspective this story shows how God was involved, watching over the newborn Messiah, instructing his parents, and insuring that he was kept safe as an infant and young child. However, historically, many other Christians have looked at this story from a different perspective—the problem of theodicy. Theodicy is the problem concerning how Christians reconcile our belief in an all-powerful, loving God with the evil which persists in the world. In other words, how could an all-powerful, loving God allow all of those innocent children to be massacred by King Herod? If God warned Joseph and helped Jesus escape from Herod’s wrath, why couldn’t God also have warned and helped all of the other families with small children in Bethlehem?
In my message this weekend, I will struggle with this problem of theodicy as it emerges in Matthew’s story of the massacre of the innocents. As Christians, when we struggle with problems of theodicy, there are never any easy or straightforward answers. However, I think that it is important to struggle with problems of theodicy because I firmly believe that we can grow and deepen our faith by engaging these challenges. Hopefully, our struggle with theodicy this Sunday will prepare us as we celebrate a new year and resume our normal routines after the Christmas-New Year holiday season.
If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, December 30th, as we reflect on the massacre of the innocents and the problem of “theodicy.” Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning.
Come, join us. Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.