Early morning, I’m sitting in the living room, lit only by the Christmas tree and the fireplace on a slow burn in the adjacent study. The kids are playing with their mom on the floor. Even the proverbial stockings are hung there.
An idyllic setting, one ten years ago I thought I would probably never be part of. Yet, as the events in Newtown, Connecticut, yesterday remind me, this is all so fragile, one disturbed individual with a gun away from being lost. The story only becomes more horrific with each new detail. I cry, and it only makes me hold the moments with my girls more closely.
It’s my oldest daughter who reminds me of this fragility every time we reread the Christmas story. Of course, she’s all about the baby Jesus: his need for shelter, for care and cuddling. Her favorite parts are how nobody would give Jesus a place to stay, and they finally had to use a trough for Jesus’ bed.
And she insists on the part of the story we often forget: the dark cloud that lurks behind the bright and morning star, the little detail we often tack on the end of the story as an addendum or overlook altogether. It’s the part about the evil man. Remember? Jesus parents have to whisk him away to another country to flee a plot on his life from Herod. Heart-pounding. Jesus, only a short while into his life on earth, is already a target of a paranoid thug bent on murder (which became the mass killings of Jewish babies). Welcome to Earth, Jesus. It’s enough to set one on course for a butt kicking anxiety disorder.
The killings of the innocent in Newtown show the monster King Herod has his offspring still today. We understandably cannot make any sense out of this heartless slaughter of 20 kindergarten kids. And the added horror, it happened as these kids were looking forward to Christmas.
It all defies our sense of any kind of goodness in the world. It also throws into question the presence of a merciful, just God. No tidy theological answer will do. For people trying to offer comfort to grieving parents, all they can do is be there with them.
This too is what Christmas offers. Yes, Herod will always be part of the story. And no, God did not prevent Herod or this killer yesterday from carrying out their evil intentions. But also, Christmas means God is not alien to our fears, aloof and distant. He willingly puts himself in the middle of every heart-rending contingency and threat on our lives. He experienced it all firsthand, so he's qualified to be there with us. Sometimes we need a child to remind us.