O little town of Bethlehem, where still small bodies lie
And mothers wail for slaughtered dreams with grief that will not die:
‘Tis in your dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.
The cries and tears of all the years are heard in thee tonight.
Little Bethlehem, cradle of the Christ, is the town nearest the grave of Rachel.
She died there in childbirth, delivering Ben-oni, “Son of my sorrow.”
Israel her heartbroken husband changed the boy’s name to Benjamin, which in a way silenced the voice of his wife, which carried truth too raw and heavy for him to endure.
He set up her grave and then moved on, as so many so-called tough guys are taught to do.
Rachel’s tears went underground for centuries.
But her haunting voice would be heard again, by the prophet Jeremiah, who wept with Rachel’s ghost over a future hopelessly lost.
Ephraim, her grandson’s name, became associated with the children of Israel lost to Assyrian
invasion and brutality, and also with those kidnapped into exile by Babylon.
As the prisoners are carted off, Jeremiah hears the bitter shrieks of their great-upon-great grandmother Rachel, weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted ... because they are no more.
More centuries pass, and now Matthew hears her voice again.
In Matthew’s performance, the role of God’s storm-tossed people is played by Jesus, and the role of the cruel Egyptian pharaoh is portrayed by Herod.
They are part of an elaborate presentation in the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel of Jesus reprising the holy history of God’s people, the Old Testament in newborn miniature.
But in Matthew’s mind this is no cheap Hollywood remake of a familiar story; this is Immanuel
and this is fulfillment.
Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, living our story, sharing our fate, from beginning to exodus to exile.
God with us not only re-lives but fulfills our story, makes it whole, redeems it, perfects it,
or as Saint Paul would say it, brings it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.
That story is not complete without Rachel.
Church leaders have long been known to look out at the full crowds on Easter morning with a twinge of sadness, lamenting how many of those happy looking worshipers missed Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, how they missed, maybe avoided, the unpleasant but powerful and indispensably critical parts of the story.
Christmas mirrors that: the happy throngs celebrate a romanticized birth of Jesus but many of them now skip the scary consequences, the infant blood in Bethlehem’s streets, the violence that lashes out in reaction to the threats of vulnerable power and real peace.
But God with us is empty nonsense if God is not with us in our entire story.
Our story includes Pharaoh and Herod and Hitler and school shooters armed to the teeth
with too much firepower and fear.
Our story includes refugees on the run from political atrocities, children dragged across or
detained at borders because home is too violently unstable.
Our story includes unspeakable suffering and innocent death and monstrous tragedies which defy easy answers and shallow consolations.
Our story includes evil, in the hallways of government centers and elementary schools and movie theaters, and if we are honest, also in the dark corridors of our own hearts.
If God is truly with us, God will not be safe, either from the vicious horrors that are part of being human or from the persistent, haunting voice of Rachel weeping for them.
Immanuel, insists Matthew: God is with us.
It may not be the news we want to hear.
As Robert Capon has astutely observed, The human race is, was, and probably always will be
deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah.
We don’t want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it.
We crucified Jesus not because he was God but because he blasphemed: he claimed t