Confronting Evil – Even at Christmas

A Devotion for the Fifth Day of Christmas on December 29, 2017
Read Matthew 2:13-23

“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

Lest we had forgotten, we have been reminded of evil again and again these last weeks. Mass shootings in Las Vegas, in a church in a small town in Texas and a near miss with a school in California have all been poignant reminders that evil is among us. The promoters of evil do not take Christmas off.

In a perfect world there would be no Hitler’s, Osama Bin Laden’s. Certainly no Herods or people like Herod who think nothing of killing the innocents. There would be no children starving in Syria, or mutilated in the Sudan.  There would be no children forced to be soldiers and no deaths on the streets of our cities. But we do not live in that perfect world. We live in a world where good people get hurt and bad things happen to very good people all the time. We live in a fallen world where the forces of evil coexist with good. Daily we are given the choice to embrace the evil in us and in others, or to embrace the good. We live in a world where the forces of evil catch even the best of us. We can  reject God and in that rejection do terrible things, cruel things. We can act out of fear and follow the darkness of our diseased hearts.

Herod was such a man. He was a paradox, a man who could be generous and kind. He managed to keep peace in a place that had not known peace for long years. It was Herod who had renovated and enlarged the temple in Jerusalem. During an economic downturn he had remitted taxes and in the years of famine had his own gold plate melted down to buy food for the poor.  But as the years passed he became more and more paranoid. Terrified that he would be overthrown, he did terrible things to protect himself, evil things. He ordered the assassination of three of his sons, had his wife and her mother murdered. Augustus said of him that it was “safer to be Herold’s pig than his son.”

At the rumor a future king had been born in Bethlehem, Herod was again terrified . . .  So much that he ordered the death of every infant and toddler boy under the age of two. Joseph, warned in a dream flees to Egypt with his wife Mary and the child Jesus. Of the other children in Bethlehem we know nothing of their story. Were their children hidden and kept safe, or others spirited away? We know only of those left behind whose mother’s heart break and Rachel’s tears flow as they cry for children who are no more.

In Bethlehem, we come face to face with evil and the consequences of evil. The slaying of children, be it by Herod’s sword or a terrorist attack, leaves those who remain to pick up the pieces of life. In a perfect world there would be no need for a savior, no need for a Jesus. God’s answer to evil was to send a child born in the little village of Bethlehem, Jesus the Christ. The world will have it Herod’s, Hitler’s and Bin Laden’s. There will always be people acting out of greed and grasping for power. There will be those with misguided ambitions causing hurt and pain. Some will try to put out the light in Christ.  But the light that is Christ will not go out. No evil is so strong, nor darkness so great. There is nothing that will take the light of Christ out of our world.

Prayer: God of light and goodness, Remind us when we face evil, when we are afraid and it seems like our world is out of control . . . that you are here. You are here to walk with us as we face the evil. You are here to give us strength and courage for today and hope for tomorrow. Remind us that though we may have tribulation in this world that in Christ you have overcome the world. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

The Legitimization of Hate

It was inevitable, really. A mass killing, larger than the last biggest mass killing. It was probably inevitable too, that a minority group of some sort would be the target. With months of hearing debates over bathroom laws, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise that a gay bar was the target. How much of the Orlando killing spree was a terrorist attack and how much a hate crime, remains to be sorted out.

I do know the legitimization of hate has risen to new heights in this election cycle. While it was a 2nd generation American with roots in Afghanistan, naming ISIS as his reason for mass murder, it was an immigrant preacher from Venezuela, who praised the deaths. Roger Jimenez (who claims to be a Christian) made a point of telling his congregation there was no reason to mourn the people shot in Orlando. Instead, he said he wished more had died. Both have been fed a barrage of anti-gay sentiment. Their purpose was hate. Their need was to attack a group of people who are deemed less worthy, by some in our society.

Whatever the tortured state of mind of Omar Mateen, he latched unto legitimized hate as justification for his decision to carry out an attack. Fueled by ISIS attacks on anyone who is different, he justified himself. Afterwards, Jimenez, latched onto legitimized hate to launch his diatribe against all gay and lesbian people, who he believes are destined for punishment. He says, that God has already put the “death penalty” on them, so why should anyone care.

A few days back, a close relative of an old friend was attacked by a person, who mistook his tanned skin, as that of a Muslim. Feeling righteous anger, the man knocked him to the floor and began to beat him up. He felt his hatred toward Muslim people, legitimized in today’s rhetoric, gave him the right to do injury and harm to a stranger.

It’s not to say I believe in reincarnation, but sometimes I think that in God’s great wisdom, justice would be served by sending Orlando’s shooter and Pastor Jimenez back to be re-schooled in compassion, reincarnated as young gay men in Saudi Arabia or some other intolerant society.

I hope that we come to a consensus on guns, mental illness and better strategies of tracking people who pose a threat to others, soon. More than that, I pray a new attitude of compassion will flow through this country. An attitude which loves, even people who we disagree with – whose life style, may be contrary to our own view of the world. An attitude which refuses to buy into the politics of hate. Jesus had it right, when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Jeremiah – “Oh That I Might Weep Day and Night”

Today is another of those moments when we try to make sense of violence. We wonder if Mohammad Youusef Abdulazeez’s act in Chattanooga at two military recruiting sites was motivated by a mind twisted by radical Islam. There is no logic to the shootings which are too prevalent in our nation. I don’t understand how Dylann Roof could convince himself that walking into a prayer service at a church and slaughtering people is somehow noble or just. Equally, I don’t comprehend how Andreas Lubitz. a person with personal problems could take it upon himself to fly a plane into a mountain as happened a few months back on a Germanwings plane. There are certain moments in life that can only be defined as evil. Evil rooted in the mind and heart of a person through illness or subverted truth.

The question of evil is one that we will always wrestle with. We know that we live in a fallen world . . . A world where sin and evil exist. At times, when we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that evil exists even in us. We may never understand what caused the anger, rage and violence of yesterday’s Chattanooga attacks, but we do know ourselves and our own hearts.

Still, we wonder why God allows the kind of evil which targets the innocent. Why doesn’t God stop evil in its tracks? Is God indifferent? Does God care? Where is the will of God is all of this? Jeremiah was a person who often struggled with that question. He lived in the sixth century before the birth of Christ. In 587 BCE Jerusalem was overthrown. Much of the population was taken to Babylon where they would serve as slaves. Jeremiah had spent his life trying to prevent that catastrophic event. When he fails, Jeremiah’s heart breaks for his beloved city. He cries out to God with these words, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? Oh that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Jeremiah 8:22-9:1 NRSV) He cries out to God in his anguish, his pain and his sorrow. His tears of sorrow are a prayer, bewailing a world gone mad.

Evil spills into the lives of innocents, ripping hearts in two. This is never something God wants to have happen. Call it free will. Call it anything but God’s will. God’s desire has always been to save all of creation. For that reason, Jesus was sent into the world. While there are moments when evil seems to rule, God’s ultimate will, will be done. That ultimate will and purpose of God cannot be defeated. Nothing can happen which finally defeats God’s purpose and plan for each of our lives. Evil will have its moment, God will ultimately overcome, for God is greater than evil.

Today we grieve again, for lost lives and broken hearts. We pray to learn something from our losses, to grow as a nation and as a people. We pray to open our hearts to God’s wisdom and truth. We pray that troubled souls will find peace in God. A peace that turns hearts and minds from darkness to light.