Some weeks ago my sister came up with a great idea for our congregation’s December mission project: to collect baby clothes for local mothers who need to go to a local shelter for battered women in abusive relationships.
The project seemed to me to do two things. Firstly, it would address a tangible need in our community. And secondly, while celebrating the advent of hope in the birth of Jesus, the project would also acknowledge one of the most horrific and oft evaded scenes of the Christmas narrative.
King Herod, in his insecure obsession to safeguard his rule, ordered all Bethlehem baby boys killed, in the hopes that one of them might be the Messiah he assumed threatened his throne.
It’s not a scene you’re likely to see performed in any pageant this Christmas season, and understandably so. It’s grisly and heart wrenching, and doesn’t maintain that positive holiday vibe. Regardless, it happened. And amidst the frenzy of our festive activities, we need to remember it happened.
It’s good we celebrate the hope that has come into the world to save us from the horror that sin has wrought upon human reality; but if our celebrating ignores the reality of that horror, we omit what necessitates hope in the first place. There can be no hope of shalom (God’s peace) without the horror of sin. That Bethlehem was the place of both Jesus’ birth and Herod’s bloodbath shows how nearby hope and horror often are.
Even now horrors are still close by.
As noted, our congregation’s mission project reminds us there are still women in abusive relationships, along with their children, who are being unleashed upon as scapegoats for an angry man’s insecurity. A Coptic Church in Egypt was recently bombed, killing several mothers and their children. Civilian men, women, and children in Aleppo are currently suffering, and possibly being executed, in the latest chapter of the conflict in Syria.
We need to remember these horrors in order that we might repeatedly comprehend that nothing good is ever created by them. Whether cruelly inflicted upon people or utilized as a perceived solution to ending suffering, horror always gives birth to horror, explaining its constant existence within human reality.
This is what makes the birth of Jesus so stark of an emergence. His incarnate presence singularly exists as the substance of hope. The horrors matter because the hope slowly supplanting them matters. To remember the horror doesn’t glorify it, but acknowledges that it is the background that accentuates the hope that is coming to the forefront of all reality.
This Christmas season, abide in and embody hope; not only because we must, but for why we must. All realities around us considered, hope is the only one of its kind.