December 23

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie; Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
I had planned for my sermon this past Sunday to be on the murder of innocent baby boys, aged two years old and under, by King Herod in 1st Century Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-20). I had no idea that it would be delivered during some of the most difficult days in our nation’s history, mourning the somewhat similar murder of 20 children, aged six and seven, along with six incredible, committed women, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Our brother Stanley Jones asked for prayers as he spoke for all of us recognizing the battle we face in dealing with such an unconscionable tragedy. Continue to be prayerful for him and for all of those so deeply affected by this horrible loss. Unfortunately an electrical surge prevented the recording of the message. So here are some thoughts from that sermon, as we continue to struggle through this unspeakable tragedy.
In the midst of “Rejoice” there is this horrible, dark story of the murder of innocent boys by an insecure, lunatic ruler. Surely there is no pain and hurt and injustice like that experienced in the loss of a child. Yet in this story in Matthew 2 we see the horrible tragedy and injustice of what has been called at times “the massacre/slaughter of the innocents.” What is the place of this story in the call to rejoice at the birth of the Savior?
It is difficult to appreciate the gospel until we begin to appreciate the need for the gospel. We are forced to confess that humanity is sinful, that we are sinful, that we are in need of a Savior. The good news of the gospel is that our darkest sin cannot withstand the grace and mercy and light of the coming of Christ. The light of the gospel overcomes the darkness of sin.
In telling this story Matthew sees a fulfillment of the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke of the incredible tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem and death and exile of so many of his people in the context of not only pain and loss but also of return, promise and hope. Jeremiah is reminded of the emotions that Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel felt at not being able to have children naturally, of later having a son Joseph, and then of dying during childbirth of her second son Benjamin. “This is what the LORD says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15-17; cf. Matthew 2:17-18)
Wendy Murray Zoba wrote these piercing words: “Perhaps if the mothers of Bethlehem understood that the birth of the Savior would cost them the lives of their sons…Had they also known of the dream that alerted Joseph to flee, they might have asked, ‘What harm would there have been in God sending us dreams, too?'” (“Mary Rejoicing, Rachel Weeping,” Christianity Today 12/8/1997) There are no easy answers to that question, perhaps no answers at all. Except to say that the One who was spared was the One who 30 or so years later would give His life on the cross so that, in spite of our horrible sins, all could come to believe in Him and live.
And in that answer is the key for all of us as we face the unspeakable horror of what happened last week in Newtown. Only in Jesus Christ can we find the One in whom is met our greatest hopes of life and peace as well as our worst fears of sin and death. The question for us is, are we living the way of the Savior? Are we doing what we can to bring that same hope and peace and joy into the lives of the people and community around us?

Bill Allen

Dr. Bill Allen preached at South Fork from 2005 to 2015. He received a Bachelors degree in Bible from Oklahoma Christian in 1978, a Masters in Bible from Abilene Christian (ACU) in 1988, and a Doctor of Ministry from ACU in 1992. He now preaches at the West Erwin Church of Christ in Tyler, Texas.

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