Today, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends of 20 little children and 6 other adults are mourning and weeping. Their pain is shared not only in Newtown, Connecticut, but by people all over the world. Their lives will never be the same again after yesterday’s events. Their Christmas this year and for the rest of their lives will always bring this sad remembrance. Tomorrow, in churches around the world, we all will send our prayers for these families to our gracious and merciful Father in heaven.
Since early November, I’ve been thinking about a sermon that I’ll be preparing for the last of our Christmas 2012 series, “Christmas in Genesis,” on January 6, 2013. I tentatively entitled it, “Mothers Weeping, Children Celebrating,” and the texts will be Genesis 35:16-20, Jeremiah 31:10-15 and Matthew 2:13-18. I didn’t know that I would be resurrecting these thoughts this early in light of yesterday’s events.
Matthew 2:13-18 tells us about Herod’s wrath after he realized he was tricked by the wise men from the East. In his usual fury and fit of jealousy for his throne as “King of the Jews,” he ordered the massacre of infant boys two years and younger in Bethlehem. Again, Matthew tells us that even this was a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy:
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Was Jeremiah’s prophecy really about Herod’s massacre of infants? No, it wasn’t. Jeremiah’s prophecy was referring to the invasion of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The great Temple of Solomon was in flames. Israel’s sons were killed or taken captive or exiled. From Jerusalem, the procession of the exiles went through a place called Ramah, five miles to the north. Ramah was a gathering point for them before they were marched towards Babylon (Jer 40:1).
Jeremiah used Rachel, the mother of two of Israel’s tribes, as a personification of Jewish mothers who mourned the loss of their sons and daughters to the invaders. They were “no more,” either dead or exiled. We read from Genesis 35 that Rachel died in her hard labor when she was delivering her son Benjamin, the “son of my sorrow.” She and all of Jacob’s family were on their way from Bethel south to Bethlehem. Her burial place was in the vicinity of Ramah.
But we also know that the latter part of Jeremiah 31 is a prophecy about God’s new covenant with his people. The old covenant with Israel was passing away, and a new covenant was dawning. Because Rachel does not want to be comforted, Jeremiah tells her:
“Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work… there is hope for your future” (Jer 31:16).
Why must Rachel stop weeping for her children? Because God promises her in a new covenant, “there is hope for your future… and they shall come back from the land of the enemy” (Jer 31:17).
God fulfilled this promise of a new covenant by bringing a remnant of Israel back from the exile. This remnant brought forth a Child, the Son of God, who would lead his people out of slavery of sin. Like Moses, this newborn Child was preserved by God by sending him back to Egypt, the ancient house of slavery.
But as God brought a remnant of Israel out of slavery in foreign exile, today God is still continuing to bring a remnant of his people out of slavery to sin. From out of Pharaoh’s wicked scheme to destroy all Hebrew babies came Moses, the redeemer of Israel. Out of the remnant from Babylon, God brought Joseph and Mary to be the earthly parents of the Messiah. Out of Herod’s wicked plan, the baby Savior-child and his family went down to Egypt. And after Herod died, God said, “out of Egypt I called my son.”
So in contrast to Rachel, Mary, the mother of Jesus was comforted when her Son, the only true “Innocent,” died on the cross at the hands of wicked people. She found comfort in the house of John the beloved disciple. She found comfort in the company of disciples in Jerusalem, waiting for the Spirit, the Comforter, promised by his Son who had ascended into heaven.
We too are to find comfort in our Savior and Redeemer, because “our hard labor is ended, our iniquity is pardoned” (Isa 40:1-2), and we have been freed from slavery to sin. We too are to find comfort in the assembly of the saints who weep with us and comfort us in our afflictions, so that we may overflow with joy (2 Cor 7:4, 6-7).
When you hear of the massacre of “innocents,” mourn and weep, but do not mourn without hope. In contrast to Rachel who refused to be comforted, be comforted! Because through the evil done on “innocent” children, God preserved Jesus, the Son of God, who would save you from your sin.
When sorrows, afflictions and persecutions come to you, mourn and weep, but also rejoice! Because through the exodus of your Redeemer, you too can persevere through your own journey in this barren wilderness of life.
Who knows what comfort God has in mind in the aftermath of Newtown?
And pray with hope, “Come soon, Lord Jesus, and ransom captives that mourn in lonely exile in this broken, wicked world!” When that day comes, our night of mourning and weeping will turn into an eternity of dancing and rejoicing.
For the full sermon, click here.