Monday, December 21, 2009
(I placed this on my blog last year, partly because of my own situation. My life has changed drastically in the last year but I know from experience that Christmas is not all joy for many. So I offer this once again for the hurting in our midst and for the churches to minister to them)
What do you think of around Christmas? What do you normally see at a Nativity ... even one at a church? There are usually animals. Mary, Joseph, Wise men all have there place. There is usually a star of some sort. And of course there are angels. Most Nativity's are a whole lot of Luke with a little bit of Matthew thrown in for good measure.
The opening of Matthew's Gospel is considerably different than Luke's. He opens with that seemingly irrelevant genealogy (its not by any means!). We are then confronted with a scene that is horrific in nature. It is a crime that Tom Mueller in the December 2008 National Geographic declares "Herod is almost certainly innocent of" (p.40). In Matthew there are no angels that welcome the baby Yeshua rather we are confronted with "Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more" (Mt 2.18). This is what is missing from every Nativity I have ever seen in my life. There are no mothers crying for their children.
But there it is right at the beginning of the "good news" about Jesus. I too used to overlook that scene from the real Christmas ... but not anymore. Matthew acknowledges something that needs to be acknowledged: Christmas is painful for many people. With the emphasis on family, friends, parties, giving gifts ... we need to see the "Rachel's" in our churches and our communities that "refuse to be comforted."
These Rachel's have suffered loss. Loss of loved ones. Some to disease. Some to death. Some to divorce. This time of year can be merciless for some, so much so that many even end their own lives.
At Palo Verde last Sunday we had a worship service centered around "Christmas: The Loneliest Time of the Year." We began by reading Psalm 22 which confesses intense agony. Then the service was divided into three parts we read scripture that allowed us as a church family to embrace those who have suffered loss. We invited everyone to write down a name of some one and bring it down to the communion table. I was not prepared for the outpouring ... people streamed to the table of brotherhood. Psalm 88 was read for the loss of our loved ones. Every piece of paper was read. We prayed and lamented together. After the third lament was over ... with all those cards still on the table ... we decided to take the Lord's Supper and "discern the body" ... perhaps for the first time. We were family and we were all one before the Lord. It was powerful. We closed the service with a congregational reading of Psalm 23. We began with embrace of loss and left with the comfort of the Lord.
This coming Sunday we are doing the "other side of the coin." We will have a happiest time of the year ... but first we need to see the Dark Side of Christmas. I encourage my readers out there to embrace those hurting. Sometimes Christmas really is almost unbearable ... but we can be the very comforting presence of Jesus for them. The response to our service last week has been overwhelming.
May the Shalom of our dear Lord rest upon us all.