Commentary: Bethlehem's miracle was followed by tragedy

The Christmas story ends too soon. Oh, I don't mean Christmas ends too early. We have found ways to keeping the presents coming, the tree up and the lights on long after Christmas Day is finished. If we time it right, we can keep spending the Christmas gift cards throughout the whole year. And God alone knows how long the fruitcake will last!

But the Christmas story, the nativity story, ends too early. We know the story by heart; the angel appearing to Mary, the travel to Bethlehem, the inn that had no room but a stable, the birth of a baby born to save us all, the angelic chorus, the shepherds, the star and the three Kings.

But when we retell stories, even sacred stories, we want them to end with "they live happily ever after." So we cut them short, leave out the real ending, or try to clean things up. But deep down, in the places in our hearts and minds, we do not visit much and never speak about; we know that bad and terrible things that happen in the stories also happen in real life and real time.

The Christmas story does not end with the joyful gathering of Angels, Shepherds, Magi and the Holy Family in the stable surrounded by gifts and the radiating star. The story really ends in that terrible place were the families of Sandy Hook now dwell, in the place of soul suffocating pain, of tears and sorrow so great it takes a nation if not a globe to carry the full weight.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was not the first Christmastime massacre. The very first Christmas ends with a massacre of innocents. When Herod learned that a child who would be king was born in Bethlehem, he was disturbed. Such a child would disrupt his family's reign. When Herod learned the Three Kings had not returned to tell him which child was to be the king, he ordered his personal troops into Bethlehem to kill every male child under the age of two. Herod wanted to no survivors to threaten his rule.

The Angel's carols and are now wailings of mourning. Christmas joy ends in a funeral mass. The Christmas silver bells now mark the death toll. The Christmas guests are now attendees at funerals. The Christmas lights that decorate trees and houses are now reminders of candles lit across the globe in memory of those who perished.

We do not know the names of those children massacred in Bethlehem at the first Christmas. God knows their names. God welcomed them into his home. God healed them of their wounds, took away their pain, and gave them a Christmas party that made even Santa jealous. God will do nothing less than this for the children and teachers of Sandy Hook whose names we do know.

We could end the story here too, but it would be too soon. There are other chapters in the story. One child survived the massacre in Bethlehem. The one child grows into the one we call Jesus.

Amazing things will happen. Terrible horrible things will continue. But in every chapter there is a promise; that those who live in the dark and awful places, those who suffer with the burdens of sorrow, to them will come a great light that will lead them to a place where all the lost now call home, and we dare to call heaven.

MARK WILEY is the pastor at Mesa Verde United Methodist.

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