Jesus Was Born into a World of Massacred Children

[I originally wrote this post 2 years as a reflection on the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Sadly, it's relevant again this year.]

  Candlelight vigil for the victims of the Peshawar school siege.   By Kashif Haque (own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Candlelight vigil for the victims of the Peshawar school siege. 
By Kashif Haque (own work), via Wikimedia Commons

My heart has been heavy this week, and if you've been following international news, then I'm guessing yours has too. On Tues, Dec. 16, Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshawar, Pakistan and killed 132 children and 10 teachers. (For more information on the story, see NBC News' coverage.)

A tragedy like this leaves us with big questions. How could God allow this to happen? What kind of world do we live in where innocent children can get massacred like this?

There's no simple answers to these questions. But one thing is for sure -- it’s exactly the kind of world that Jesus was born into.

There’s a part of the Christmas story that’s not included in any nativity scenes or written into any Christmas pageants. In fact, it’s the darkest part of an otherwise hope-filled story. It was the slaughter of innocent children. Matthew 2:16-18 tells of this tragedy:

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 2:16-18
  The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem.  By Matteo di Giovanni,  via Wikimedia Commons

The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem.
By Matteo di Giovanni, via Wikimedia Commons

King Herod, filled with fear and rage, was determined to prevent this new “king” from growing up and overtaking his throne, so he ordered the execution of all the infant boys in the small town of Bethlehem. Historians estimate that the town might have had around 1,000 people, with somewhere around 20 or so infants that matched Herod’s decree.

But God was there in that world, in the little town of Bethlehem, just as he is here in our world. And His heart broke then, just as it does today.

So, when Matthew described the baby Jesus as “Immanuel – God with us” (Matt. 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14), he wasn't just referring to “God with us...when everything is going well.” He was also referring to God with us...when the unimaginable happens.”

It’s times like that when we need to be reminded most that Jesus Christ is our Immanuel, "God with us". God is with us when a loved one dies. God is with us when we give in to that addiction again. And God is with us when we are overwhelmed with sorrow over the sin in the world.

That's the promise of Christmas: God is with us.