Rachel, Mary, and the Lament of the World

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The Bible is the Story of God. This morning I finished my journey “thru the Bible” for 2017, Genesis to Malachi; Tobit to 4 Maccabees; Matthew to Revelation. The Bible is the Story of God.

But the Bible is more than that. The Bible is the story of God with the world, with creation.

The world looms large in the biblical narrative from the beginning to the end. Creation is the canvas upon which the Story of God is painted. Scripture bears witness to people who had no idea they would one day be “in the Bible.” These are not people who were super righteous, doing amazing, wonderful things. Rather they are mere humans groping around in the darkness wondering what is going on.

In fact, if Hollywood did a movie using the literal script of the biblical text, many Christians would protest the movie as sacrilege.  Why? Because there is a lot of darkness in the biblical text.  But then there is darkness in the world. And the Bible is the Story of God with the world.

Christmas and the Story of Lament

This morning, I’ve been reflecting on the whole biblical narrative in light of a coming Christmas lament service based on Matthew 2.13-18.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to murder him.”

“Then Joseph go up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained their until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he few into a rage and sent and murdered all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and younger, according to the time he learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and crying,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because her children were dead

This is the part of the Christmas story never seen in Nativity sets.

Ruminating on Revelation’s promise, on the last page of the Bible, of “wiping away all tears” (21.4; cf. Isa 25.8), I connected the text with Matthew 2. Those tears were no longer merely my tears. They were Rachel’s. Then they were suddenly Mary’s. Then they were the tears of all creation, refusing to accept platitudes for the skubala in this world.

Is Rachel not a symbol for Mary too?

Mary will see her son brutalized with Roman precision, as he hangs on the cross. I can certainly imagine Mary “refusing to be comforted” in the face of her son’s lament, “my God, my God ...”

The Gospel embraces the suffering world from Christmas to Cross. Redemption does not deny the pain but is witnessed to by God. Revelation completes the promise of Eden and the reaffirmation of those promises at Christmas.

God has heard our lamentation and God has come. God did not turn away from our cries and tears.  In the person of Jesus, God was drawn to the hurt of the world in order to heal the world.

The Bible contains bitter, yet profound, lament from Genesis to Revelation. For years I never paid any attention to this. I grew up hearing Scripture as a series of disjointed “propositions,” devoid of any narrative content or context. It simply did not even occur to me. I did not think in terms of the narrative framework the Bible came in.  But in the narrative we see:

The ground groans because of the blood of Abel.

God cries because the world is full of violence.

Jerusalem wails over her degradation.

Rachel weeps for her children.

Jesus screams at the jet black sky.

The martyrs shout, how long? Enough is enough!

The Bible is the Story of God with the suffering world. Therefore it is also the case that the Gospel of God is the Gospel for the world. The Gospel is the “Good News” because it has something to say to the lament that begins in Genesis, is heard in Ruth, is displayed in Judges, bitterly thrown toward heaven in Job, sang in worship in the Psalms, is punctuated in Ecclesiastes, is prayed over in Isaiah, that accuses God in Lamentations, that causes a crises of faith in Habakkuk, is incarnate in the Gospels, Romans, 1 Peter and continues to Revelation.

The Story and Us

That Israel used lament in worship suggests the Israelites were more candid about the wrongs of this world than most American disciples. We live in an age when easy answers are served on silver trays to starving souls, a time when charlatans amass fortunes by appealing to the human desire for a quick fix to difficult problems. While we spend our waking hours engaging in petty fighting over stunningly trivial matters … while the whole of the world cries in agony, disease, suffering, poverty, and refuses to be comforted.

But this is the amazing gift of Christmas. The coming of Jesus is within the suffering, within the poverty, within the childhood diseases, within the fear that lies in the hearts of so many human beings. The tears of Rachel and Mary are our tears.

Christmas does not dismiss those tears. Christmas happens because God has heard our lament.

Record my lament;
list my tears on your scroll –
are they not in your record?

(Ps 56.8)

The gift of grace is the gift of God’s own presence. A God so “real” that flesh and blood now wraps infinite eternity and looks the Rachel’s and Mary’s gently in the eye and whispers “I am here with you.”

The Story of God with the world reminds us that the Gospel is not some Gnostic fairy tale. The Gospel is not about the trivialities of life. The Christmas message itself alerts us to the stunning truth that, not only did God enter the world.  But that the suffering lament of the world entered the heart of God.  And God gently wipes Rachel’s tears away.

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