Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Significance of Twenty Children

Massacre of Innocents painting, 1824
There I am, surrounded by a table full of young boys, all under the age of six.  Two of them keep sneaking open their markers when they think I'm not watching, the temptation to color a shepherd standing alone against the void of night much too great to withstand, or so it seems.   

My Bible lies open in front of me revealing the words of the familiar Christmas story.  It's not like I even have to look, read the verses. 

I know the beginning, middle, and end by heart.  

Even without reviewing my teacher's book, I know last week was the story of the shepherds and Christ's birth.  The week before spoke of the immaculate conception as well as two angels visiting both Mary and Joseph. 

This week is the Magi.  Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Camels, elephants, tents, and a star lighting the way to the young Christ child's home in Bethlehem.

We count the wise men on the coloring sheet, discuss how it may have been more than three men even though they only brought three gifts.

The boys squint their foreheads hard when I ask them to remember back to Daniel and the lion's den.  I tell them this same Daniel may have been the one who taught some wise men in Babylon the prophecy of Jesus' coming birth so that the wise men generations later would continue to watch for the star.

My oldest son pops open a black marker.  Even to him, this is old news, not really interesting when there is arts and crafts lying in wait.

Then, I mention "mean ole King Herod" and the wise men's dream warning them to return home a different route because of the King's desire to kill the Christ child.  The squirming dies down a bit.  Even at four and five years old, little boys are just wired to hone in on the danger/adventure part of the story.

I have their attention, so I reread the passage where Herod lies to the Magi about his true motives.  When I ask if Herod really wanted to come worship Jesus, one boy's eyes get big.  "Noooooo." he solemnly whispers.  "He wanted to kill him."

And then my eyes fall on the next passage. 

For a moment, I had forgotten this part of the story--King Herod's response when  he realized the Magi had duped him:

"Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
'A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more'" (Matt. 2:16-18).

As a teenager, I imagined the horror of thousands of children dead.  Years later when I read scholars believe Herod's henchmen may have slaughtered around twenty* children under the age of two, I was less appalled, almost even blew off the event in light of the other horrors of the New Testament. 

Twenty is such a small number in comparison to the other heinous murders Herod is guilty of (including killing his own sons).  Even the historian Josephus doesn't bother to even mention this small event--twenty insignificant Hebrew children in a tiny, insignificant town weren't a blip on his radar.

Twenty children.  Insignificant.  

Today, though, as I sit in too-small chairs with my class of little boys, when I think back to this past Friday's tragedy in Connecticut, twenty doesn't seem so insignificant any more.

My co-teacher and I pause for a moment, both of our hearts sinking in remembrance, filled with words we can't express in the presence of innocence.

I can't not make the connection between one senseless slaughter of innocents with another, even if two thousand years separate them, even if one will tie up all the newspapers and airways for months while another was virtually ignored in a world where only Roman citizens were considered important.

I want to ask God why.  Why did he warn Mary and Joseph but not the other mothers and fathers of small children living in Bethlehem? Why allow such senseless brutality--then. now.?

But with small eyes on me, I say none of this.  I don't know the answer.  I can't wrap my mind around this historical loss of this many children, much less the twenty children who have faces, names, personalities.

So, I swallow the lump in my throat and say what I do know.  

"God protects us every day.  Every second we live without harm is a gift from God.  He does not promise to always keep us from harm.  But His Word does promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us."

In this upcoming week as this sadness burdens our minds and hearts, we must cling to promises from the Word such as these.

He may not always shield us from heartache, pain, and death.  But He does weep with us and will never abandon us, even in the midst of such horrors that this life holds. 

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (Ps. 23:4).

*Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary.  Wheaton: Scripture P, 1985.

Image: François-Joseph Navez (1787–1869) "The Massacre of the Innocents." 

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