Serving in the Kingdom
The twelve days of Christmas are over; the wise men (astronomers from a different land) have come to Bethlehem. The journey seems different this year, but is it really?
In 1247 a Catholic Priory of the Order of St. Mary was founded in London to house the poor. It was named St. Mary of Bethlehem. As the poor were so often sick; by 1330 it had become a hospital. About 1400, when religious orders were suppressed by King Henry VII, the level of care changed and it became a hospital for the insane. The noise and confusion of the place then became known throughout England. Later still St. Mary was dropped from its name. It became known simply as Bethlehem. Later through word contraction and mispronunciation Bethlehem became Bethleem; then Bedleem; and finally Bedlam. Semantically then Bethlehem and chaos and madness have been intimately related.
Matt 2:16-18 tells of an unstable man with fear, inadequacy, revenge, and hatred in a violent world who possessed both the weapons and the will to destroy others, “…and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under according to the time he had learned from the wise men (astronomers from a different land). Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentations. Rachel (mother of Israel) weeping for her children (those lost in conquest by Babylon), she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” In Bethlehem Jesus-Emmanuel-“God is with us” had come at God’s great risk due to human disobedience and a slaughter of the innocents occurred; and again the noise and the chaos and the madness must have made Bethlehem sound like “Bedlam”. In the PPC service of communion on Christmas Eve present upon the table were the symbols of the body of Christ (broken for us), the blood of Christ (poured out for us) and white roses to symbolize our expression of wailing, loud lamentation, and weeping for children “…because they are no more”.
In a society that loves violence; in video games that mimic and simulate real life violence; in cinematic portrayal of endless violence with love of revenge; in violent language and music; and in violent sport-recreation the noise and confusion of the place has become known throughout the world and in Sandy Hook the innocent, the defenseless, and the helpless were slaughtered and are no more with us. In the later services of Christmas Eve, the shadows lurking in the noise and confusion were chased away by the light of Advent candles and the hand-held candles of those who witness a Jesus. A Jesus who turned the other cheek and was obedient even to death was symbolized in the small lights that chase away the shadows lurking in the world. Even in the darkest places God can’t be kept out. For we know in Christ we have seen and heard the Good News of God. The sick are healed. Strangers are welcomed. The poor have hope and the dead are raised to new life. As we heard our children’s choir in the second service I wept for those in pews in Connecticut whose choirs were so very different from ours that night. Yet for us all Isaiah spoke the Word of God (60:1-2) “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will appear over you.” These words of the prophet mean much more to me now and in Pinnacle Presbyterian Church I see these words come true.