Any promise of peace is stained with blood
The new year reminds us that human beings have an unimaginable capacity for evil, particularly against one another.
The recent elections in Kenya stirred controversy about the results that spiraled into violence, ethnic strife and greater potential for civil war. Crying foul, hordes of dissenters crowded around a church where hundreds of others were taking refuge. With torches and machetes in hand, they proceeded to butcher men, women and children, leaving the sanctuary in ruin.
From time to time, there are those who hang on to such tragedies as evidence of our further fall from divine grace. From the floods in Louisiana to genocide in Sudan, it’s convenient to attribute both natural and human-borne crises to a slippery slope hastening our approach to Armageddon.
In fact, when we look back into Scripture, we find much of the same kinds of tragedy and violence, even alongside our most precious stories.
Anyone who has attended a Christian church in recent weeks likely has enjoyed, once again, the birth stories of Jesus recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. We smile at the sight of our children, dressed in shepherds’ robes, angel wings and makeshift crowns as they act out the pastoral scene. We sing heartwarming songs and light candles to represent the in-breaking of divine light into the world.
It’s relatively easy to walk away from Christmas with good feelings and fond memories. However, even within those Gospel accounts, we tend to gloss over a rather dark and macabre backdrop upon which the birth story is laid.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, King Herod got word that a new leader among the Jews was coming into the world as a fragile, defenseless infant. His response: Initiate a campaign of mass infanticide to wipe out any potential threat among the Jewish community.
For me, the manger scene takes on a new context when we consider that scores of babies are being slaughtered down the street. It doesn’t exactly make for a touching Christmas carol or bedtime story, but it’s part of the bloody legacy of Christmas.
Looking further back in time, a similar scenario surrounds the birth of Moses, another heralded leader of the Jewish people. Having some well-founded concerns for threats to his power, Pharaoh orders a similar genocidal campaign against newborns when Moses arrives in the world. The irony of him being stowed away and subsequently raised by an Egyptian family does not negate the point that thousands of innocents likely died because of what this single child represented.
More familiar is the morbid setting around the cross at Calvary. Jesus, the one we Christians celebrate as God with skin on, came with open hands, bearing peace and a radical message of unconditional love. He received in response a brutal death, punctuated by public humiliation, torture and abandonment by those who claimed to follow him.
It seems that we humans have a natural tendency to run in the opposite direction when good news comes knocking. We say we want peace, yet when it stands before us, we mock it, turn our backs on it or kill it. If something so radical and transformative as the Gospel reminds us that it will take dramatic change to achieve the vision of peace we claim, we shrug off the implication such a challenge has on our daily comforts.
If we are to claim peace and love, we must also recognize their close companionship with violence and bloodshed. Some will suggest it’s too high of a price for such good news. Others may shrug their shoulders, dismissing the cost of such change as inevitable collateral damage.
It’s tempting to skip over the front-page stories on Kenya’s violence. It would be easier to pretend that the faith we claim here has no connection to the chaos and loss of life an ocean away. But if we truly believe that for which Jesus himself was willing to die, we must find ourselves on both sides of the gun, or else risk perhaps committing the greatest sin of all: indifference.