So, here's a raw, honest moment: when you miscarry a child shortly before Christmas, the nativity story becomes quite painful and even ironic. I mean, come on - I lose a child but a barren old woman and a virgin teenager both have babies?! For unto us a child is born!? "Not unto me," my heart whispers. It feels like quite a kick in the heart this year when I read what has always been a favorite passage of scripture. And yet, even though there is pain, it is causing me to see things from a different perspective; for in reading this miraculous account of God's grace, I am seeing the story, not just from Elizabeth's eyes or Mary's eyes - but from those who suffered loss around them. Yes, right there in the Christmas story - in the middle of angels singing and miracles happening - lies the abhorrent, merciless tragedy that gets left out of church Christmas plays and unmentioned in nativity recitals: the massacre of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18).
While two women in Israel received supernatural pregnancies, hundreds or even thousands of other mothers had their babies slaughtered before their eyes, maybe even within their wombs. It's quite obvious why we don't share this part of the story around our holiday tables. It's gruesome. It's abominable. It's unjust. Herod was motivated by a demonic, narcissistic drive to protect his own kingdom from a newborn king and he literally would stop at nothing to preserve it. Herod was determined to slaughter the destiny of Jesus. And although Jesus was the promised child, Joseph and Mary still had to flee for safety in order to protect him. What would have happened if they had not heeded? I do not know. But still - they had to heed because Jesus' life was threatened. And this is where such mystery enters into the story for me this year: God's own kid - His life was threatened and the only escape was to run. You would have thought God would have sent a legion of angels to protect him with flaming swords and chariots of fire...and maybe He did in the unseen realm. But still, they had to run. In this miraculous story of God sending his son to be born for our salvation, the human element of having to literally protect him from genocide is just...well...astonishing. It's mysterious and even a bit confusing for my little brain. They had to run for their son's life and praise God they did! But how many other moms and dads did not run? My loss cannot compare to theirs, but it's made me pause and ask: How many of them were also faithful believers like Joseph & Mary? How many of them had a swaddled promise stolen from their arms?
And what of all the other barren women in that day? Elizabeth was chosen to carry John but how many other women were faithful to God but still received no promise? How many in her family line, how many in her neighborhood? These are the people I am thinking about now as I read the Christmas story - all of those who did not receive a promise, all of those who did not receive good tidings of comfort and joy. In our American idea of Christianity, it almost seems sacrilegious to voice such thoughts, but I say, "It actually sounds a lot like Hebrews chapter 11."
Hebrews 11 is referred to as, "Faith's Hall of Fame," and it certainly is that. It's a passage I have pondered and blogged about before (see this link). We read it with stars in our eyes and say, "This is faith: Women received their dead raised to life again (11:35)!" You could add to that list of miraculous moments the names of Mary & Elizabeth, the two women who received life in their wombs when none was present. But the writer of Hebrews knew that he couldn't stop there because if he did, we might end up with the idea that faith is equal to "receiving the promise." So, in the very next verses of Hebrews 11, it says, " Others...were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted and were slain with the sword (36-37)." Interesting. So some women received their dead back while others did not. Some women received life and others tasted death. Sounds a lot like Matthew's account of Christmas.
And this is what I am learning this Christmas - that what we've made faith to be in Western culture is not biblical because it's too tidy and too full of answers. In order to protect the reputation of God's goodness, we have defined what that goodness should be: one void of mystery and one void of suffering. But the reality is this: if the times and seasons of God had not fallen at that exact moment of Elizabeth's life, she would have gone on barren...BUT..she would have still been declared righteous by God. We must learn that faith is not receiving the promise...it's trusting in a Father. And that's what I am learning this season - that the mystery of life under the sun is that some will have promises manifested to them and others will not, but God is still Immanuel for all who will embrace him. Some will embrace him in their swaddled promise and others will embrace him as the one who mourns with them...but either way, God is with us...and this is what faith is all about.