In the midst of so many tragic world events—attacks in Mali, Paris, Beirut; the growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons; landslides in Burma; and on and on and on—I find myself longing for Christmas. While I look forward to gathering with family and our traditional festivities, I LONG for the message of peace on Earth and good will towards all. I long for the reassurance of the presence of Emmanuel, God with us.
I long for the well-known Christmas story as recorded in Luke’s gospel. Yet, this is not the only account of Jesus’ birth. In Matthew’s gospel, we begin with a genealogy tracing Jesus back to Abraham. The birth narrative focuses on Joseph’s side of the story, with an angel of the Lord speaking to Joseph in a dream, encouraging him to go through with his marriage to a pregnant Mary. Here too we find the encounter with the Magi.
Right after the visit of the Magi, Joseph has another dream where he is visited by an angel. This time he is urged to take Mary and Jesus and flee for their lives. He is warned that Herod has plans to find and kill the newborn Prince of Peace. The next passage of Matthew describes the massacre of the infants. Herod killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under (Matthew 2:16). And then we hear that aching quotation from the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because
they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18.)
I know that my longing for Christmas has something to do with wanting an escape from the trouble and turmoil of our world. But Matthew’s account reminds me and all of us that there is no such thing as an idyllic Christmas “time out.” Jesus and his family themselves lived with the reality of political domination, senseless slaughter and the need to flee, to become refugees.
This Christmas, as we sing Silent Night, Holy Night! we know that there will be other songs, voices of wailing and loud lamentation, refusing to be consoled. How do we hear both these songs at the same time?
For me, the reminder that God became flesh and has dwelt among us underlines the fact that God does understand the pain and suffering of our world. The birth of Jesus reminds us that there is a better way—a way of peace and goodwill —and that we are called to follow Jesus along that path, working for peace in our homes, communities, and in our world. It recommits me to work to offer shelter and welcome for those who are in need in our country and for refugees from Syria and other war-torn regions of our world. It reminds me of why our church has committed ourselves to achieving the goals of the ELCIC Reformation Challenge over the next two years, including sponsoring 500 refugees.
This Christmas will not be the hiding place I long for, but it will be an oasis, a place to gather strength to continue on the journey. It may not be what I’m looking for, but it will be what I need. God is with us, at Christmas and every day. God is with us as we work for justice and peace in the world that God so deeply loves. May we rejoice with the song of the angels even as we are mindful of the cries of Ramah.
National Bishop Susan Johnson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada