December 28th marked the feast of the Holy Innocents. It’s a feast day that sometimes gets a little lost in the aftermath of Christmas and the preparations for New Years. It remembers the massacre of infants in Bethlehem by King Herod the Great in his attempt to kill Jesus. (Matthew 2:16–18)It’s jarring to move from the joyful and expectant celebration of Christmas almost immediately into the slaughter of innocent children but wrapped in this paradox is an opportunity to see the nature of God.
The violence in Jesus’ day was nothing new. Remember when Moses was born over a thousand years before Jesus? Pharaoh had the male children of all the Hebrews killed. Just like today, people in the first-century experienced hardship and fear, anxiety, and hunger. It was precisely into this brokenness, into this darkness, that the incarnation of God came.
There’s a part of us that struggles to reconcile a world in which God comes yet violence persists. We want to believe that God will solve the damage we cause. I think it’s important for us to remember that God is not a tool that “fixes” our problems. God creates. God creates space, time, possibility, hope, love… God creates pathways to wholeness. We are invited to walk those paths. We are invited to heal broken relationships and plant seeds of mercy and grace. Why? Because our own healing depends on it. We must participate in our own salvation, otherwise there is no true conversion.
Part of the healing power of the 12-step program is found by doing the work of your own healing– with God’s help. Healing from addiction is about healing the relationship between the addict and their addiction. It is not about making the addiction “go away”.
Jesus’s birth did not make suffering go away. As Mary and Joseph rejoiced, countless other families mourned the death of their children at Herod’s hand. But, despite Herod’s horrific act, God opened yet another path for all of us. As always, God uses everything and wastes nothing. God will take the very brokenness we create, the pain we sow, the sorrow we experience and show us pathways to new life. We needn’t wait until we think we are worthy. We can receive the love of God regardless of our own failings. God does not interrupt the human condition, God perfects it.
We still live in a violent and turbulent world. At any given moment, the miracle and joy of birth is countered by devastation and death– and yet, God still comes, beckoning us into wholeness and showing us how to heal.