When Herod realized that the visitors from the East had tricked him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were two years old and younger – this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared.
In this way what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true:
“A sound is heard in Ramah,
The sound of bitter weeping.
Rachel is crying for her children;
She refuses to be comforted,
For they are dead.”
The first time that I felt deep grief and a sense of loss was when my mother died 13 years ago. I was holding her hand when she exhaled her last breath. During the whole period from the moment she was diagnosed with colon cancer to her wake, I was able to cry only one time.
Losing our mother was painful, but somehow the fact that it was something beyond our control, helped the family cope with the grief. It was a personal kind of grief, and I couldn’t imagine experiencing that grief in any other way.
I couldn’t imagine being in the shoes of a 7 year-old peasant boy who saw with his eyes how his mother was raped by armed men and how his father was shot to death.
I couldn’t imagine being in the shoes of a 14-year old girl in the slums who had to witness how their shanty had to be demolished, with no certainty where they would be relocated or where they would live next.
I couldn’t imagine being in the shoes of a college student whose hardworking mother was shot by unknown assailants because she devoted her time leading her co-workers for better pay and working conditions.
I couldn’t imagine being in the shoes of a young person who never got to see her parents again because they were abducted by armed men.
In that pain and grief, it would have been natural to feel utterly hopeless. The cry of Rachel for her slain children was a cry of anger. The killing of the innocents is one of many acts of bloodshed that have stained the landscape of human history.
It was an act of bloodshed that stood no different from other acts of treachery. It was caused by one powerful man’s desire to keep his power. Threatened by the possible rise of a new King of the Jews, Herod ordered the violence in Bethlehem to be carried out.
And in almost all other acts of bloodshed, one way or another it had something to do with the objective of territorial conquest, subjugation and domination. The lure of power and fortune has driven human societies to slaughter each other until the strong is left and the weak is withered away.
How can one possibly find hope in such a cruel world? For every person that successfully gains power and fortune, another person is slain, maimed and beaten. This reality continues to be replayed even in our times, in the so-called age of social media.
One of the greatest quotes I have ever read and heard about was one anonymous quote written on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany during the Holocaust.
The place where this quote was found etched on a wall, was believed to be a Jewish hiding place. It was a cry of faith, an act of defiance to the demons of loneliness and grief that may surround us during times of crisis.
There lies the hope in such a dire situation. The peasant boy who lost his parents in an unimaginably tragic way would have developed a phobia for the sound of gunfire and for anyone wearing fatigue uniforms and combat boots. But with the help of his community, he may be able to cope with grief and understand the greater reality of why it happened.
The young person who never got to see her parents again may reach that point where hopelessness must end and vigilance begins.
While human history has been stained by bloodshed, the same story of people and communities has also been marked with episodes of human triumph. Amid the ruins, hope rises. What drives people who have lost everything to begin anew and start again?
About the same period when Herod’s act of bloodshed and cowardice happened in Bethlehem, one of his own people – a couple from a priestly clan was given a son. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and had lost almost all hope of having a child. They were to be the parents of John the Baptist.
According to Luke, while Zechariah was working in the Temple of the Lord, the angel Gabriel appeared to him. He relayed that God has heard their prayer, and his wife Elizabeth will bear a son, whom they will name John.
How glad and happy you will be, and how happy many others will be when he is born!
John will be great in the Lord’s sight. He must not drink any wine or strong drink. From his very birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit and he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
He will go ahead of the Lord, strong and mighty like the prophet Elijah.
He will bring fathers and children together again; he will turn disobedient people back to the way of thinking of the righteous; he will get the Lord’s people ready for him. Luke 1:14-17
The role of John the Baptist in our Christian history was to set the way for the coming of the Messiah. He was not meant to be crowned with fame and fortune, and like so many others who gave their life to the faith he died violently, his body beheaded in an act of bloodshed caused by those in power.
John sought to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming, as God has commanded. And in our times, the coming of the Lord can come in different forms and context. It can come in form of the road less traveled, the unpopular way, where we as Christians can be like John the Baptist, offering a different kind of hope.
This hope is not what most would seek for; not the kind that the powerful and influential would offer to their subject and followers. Through John, God offered the hope that liberates, the hope that transforms. Yet how many of us would long for the popular kind of hope, one that gives us exactly our material wishes and desires?
John was a picture of selflessness and deep faith. His bravery and courage to cry the truth amid the sea of illusions was his own prayer of faith. He was preparing the way of the Lord. And in our times, preparing the way of the Lord means standing up for the truth, standing up for justice, and standing up for our sisters and brothers who are being abused, oppressed, maligned and deceived. Even when we fall many times, even when we lose everything, we continue to stand up.
We stand up for our faith because we claim that we are children of God. Our bodies may be riddled with bullets, but our spirits would soar because we did what our inner nature calls for us. And that hope which arises in the most hopeless of situations come from within us. When we were born, God gave part of His essence in us, and from it comes the grace, the love and the hope we share with others when we rise up from every challenge, and when we fight for the downtrodden.
But it remains a different kind of hope for many of us who choose the safe way. When we choose to look the other way, or choose to be blind to the pain and hurt of the next person, we miss the whole point of being. We miss seeing the hope that is within us, the hope that we can give to ourselves and others.
Only by embracing this hope can we become like John, like the anonymous Jew, like the many who rose from their personal tragedies. And when more and more people rise above and beyond the pain of tragedies, we see people caring, feeding and healing each other despite their own wounds. We see that hope, anchored by personal faith, transform into action that bring new light to those who need a new reason to live.
In God’s immense love for us, God gave us that hope. And with that hope, there is no reason to remain in despair.
Written by: John Paul Andaquig