On December 28, the 4th day of Christmas, the calendar of the Christian Church calls us to remember with sorrow the killing of “all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” as ordered by Herod (Matthew 2). In this intentional remembering of these innocent children, we clearly depart from all magical notions of a sugarplum Christmas.
On this day of the Christmas season, we see clearly that the birth of Jesus was a subversive act with real-life consequences. Remember Mary’s song? “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly" (Luke 1:52).
Herod viewed the child born in Bethlehem as a personal threat, and he reacted with a violence fueled by rage, fear, and abuse of position and power. Do you know there are but fifteen verses between the birth of Jesus and Herod’s brutality in Matthew's Gospel? Jesus was born into a violent world. Bethlehem was a dangerous place. It still is. Such is often the case when “the hopes and fears of all the years” collide.
Today, dear companions on the way, we are afforded the opportunity to see the true and transforming meaning of Christmas. Light shines in the darkness. No magic here. God-with-us isn’t illusion. Peace is announced in the presence of despotic power. Hope is held out as Rachel weeps. Joy is embodied in a boy living as a refugee in Egypt. And love stands toe-to-toe with oppression and wins.
On this 4th day of Christmas, we are called into the incarnational work of being the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus in a world of violence, rage, fear, and abuse of power. How? While this is a matter of responsive discernment for each of us, a few possible spiritual practices rise to the surface for me:
-- We can make it a practice to pray for the innocent victims of violence in every Bethlehem around the globe, past and present.
-- We can courageously embody reconciliation in our own neighborhoods and homes.
-- We can commit to praying that leaders of every nation employ their positions and power for the peace and good of all.
-- We can each take action on behalf of the most vulnerable in our communities to counter injustice and abuse of power.
Truly understood and embraced, Christmas invites us, together, to follow the Christ born in Bethlehem, walking through this world with feet on the ground and eyes wide open, fully engaged, for the sake of the world God so loves. In this way, Christmas is born in us today.
With you on the Way, Jeff
* The image at the top of this blog was made while I was on pilgrimage in Ireland. The sculpture remembers the innocents who lost their lives in the Great Hunger of 1845-47.