Rachel Weeping in the Wilderness and Grief at Christmastime

There is a part of the nativity story that gives me chills every time I read it. It’s today’s gospel reading, Matthew 2:13-18:

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

When I read this passage, my mind numbs in horror and my heart tries not to beat for a minute out of fear of living in a world so dark. Herod murdered so many children because he wanted to stay king, but Jesus would never have tried to take his kingship anyway. I don’t know if I saw a movie of it or if my imagination is just that vivid, perhaps some combination of the two, but of all the stories in the Bible the image of this one burrowed deep into my soul and I feel the reality of it intensely.

A split second later though, my heart rests into this passage. That sounds crazy even to me as I write it, but for a long time in my life I felt like I was not supposed to be sad. When I lost my first pregnancy to miscarriage, I was in this constant state of war between the “joy” that everyone told me I had to feel and the complete despair that enveloped everything around and in me. My grief was overwhelming.

In the midst of the self-war, I clearly remember one day curled up with Scripture reading this passage. It felt like permission to grieve. I cried out afterwards, allowed myself to lament like Rachel, I prayed that if she was in Heaven she would be with me, and I allowed my grief to flow, not just for the life I lost, but the innocence I was grieving and for the children who are dying everyday and who died throughout all of time.

When I grieve, I face the problem of evil(again) it’s the most difficult question for theologians and philosophers trying to explain away pain and resolve why there is suffering, but when I struggle the emptiness of my own understanding swallows me and I can’t see out of the hole of so many people suffering horrible things, but Rachel crying in Ramah, it seemed, was crying with me. Together, in a way, we sobbed over the loss of innocent lives, unborn babies gone too soon, whether through miscarriage or any other kind of loss, we sobbed over children who are dying or being mistreated, we sobbed over those who never really got to be children, until we jus sobbed over hurt in general. I sobbed over the pain that Rachel felt in the wilderness having seen a gore-y spectacle of greed that is incomprehensible in its selfish violence.

Rachel’s lament and the honor that we have for it as a Church gave me permission to feel my sadness, not just as a passing thing I allow myself to feel for five minutes before I pretend to be happy again, but as an all-consuming cry out to God and the universe in horror at pain in the world. Today, I wanted to give that to you.

We have things to be angry about, we have big things to grieve. The Church placing multiple feasts of martyrs just after Christmas tells us it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to grieve in the midst of this beauty. This pain is why He came. He came to end greed, cruelty, anger, murder, and these are the lives that were sacrificed because of those who were not living His way. As we allow our grief to exist, may we let it also turn into a resolve to do better. May we allow our grief to mold us into courageous helpers to bring comfort and an end to this pain. Then, when we have healed, may we receive joy again with open hearts. This is my wish for you this Christmas. 🎄

May Christ be with you, in your grief and in your joy,

Love,

-Me

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