Editor’s Note: Donald Shoemaker, Pastor Emeritus at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach wrote this opinion editorial in honor of Christmas and in response to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
– Matthew 2:18 NIV (quoting Jeremiah 31:15)
Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, died giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. “So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb” (Genesis 35:19-20).
Rachel, who gave her life for her child, becomes the “weeping mother” in the Book of Jeremiah centuries later as the children of Israel pass her grave bound for captivity in Babylon. Both Jewish and Christian tradition sees Rachel weeping for generations of Israelites killed or taken captive.
Herod the Great was king when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. About the same time he revealed his paranoia and treachery by killing his own three sons. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Herod tried to trick the Magi (“Wise Men”) into revealing Jesus’ location so he too could come to “worship him” (really, to kill him).
An angelic dream to the Magi thwarted this, and in a rage (and to take no chances that this child might live) Herod ordered that all boys ages two and under in the region of Bethlehem be killed. Skeptics doubt this story, but it is “vintage Herod” and the number of innocent children killed in this horror was likely small by “massacre” standards.
But Herod’s treachery against his intended victim was thwarted once again by an angelic dream, this time to Joseph, who was told to take Mary and Jesus quickly to Egypt. Matthew sees in Herod’s murderous treachery the words of Jeremiah about Rachel’s tears brought to a new level, “fulfilled” at Bethlehem.
This Christmas season the story rises again to a new and barbaric level.
Rachel is ever the “weeping mother” for innocent children violently killed. Rachel weeps today over the innocents killed in Newtown, Connecticut. In her weeping we see the sorrow of God.
We weep with Rachel. We pray for the sorrowing—especially the families and first responders. We pray and work for solutions (not for “understanding”, for there is none to be had).
We have elected leaders to the sacred trust of ensuring “domestic tranquility”. We ask them to lay aside prejudice, favoritism and bias and strive for remedies—preventions that might work as much as possible in a very imperfect world where terrible evil still mars the Christmas message. Yet thereby this very evil reminds us how important that message still is.