A short time ago, Ann Landers was dealing the with ongoing issue about men not stopping to ask directions in her syndicated column.
Some of her readers responded with jokes related to the wise men who sought the Christ child, having seen his star, with one indicating that if the wise men had been instead wise women, they would not only have determined their route before departing, they would have brought blankets, diapers and nighties for the babe, as well as the supplies needed to clean and disinfect the entire stable area.
Our traditional manger scenes, found everywhere at Christmastime, would no longer include sheep, donkeys and cows. The animals would have been the first to go once the feminine Magi arrived.
On a more serious note, another reader pointed out that in stopping to ask direction, the wise men alerted King Herod to the fact that a new king had been born, unwittingly setting in place the decree that all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, two years old and younger, be killed, "in accordance with what he had learned from the Magi." (Matthew 2:16)
This is one of those hard places in the Bible.
We want to be comforted by the messages of love. This is not comforting. Any parent, or even one who hopes to be a parent, shrinks back from this passage. It is too much to bear, the death of the innocents. Who did this awful thing? What kind of person looks at an infant, innocence in flesh and blood, and hardens his heart to put him to death, even at the command of a king?
We are strengthened by the messages of faith. Yet, where was God when these babies were being put to death? We want to hear how God parted the Red Sea. We want to read of manna from heaven, and hear of great battles won by God's direct intervention. Where was God when these babies were put to death?
We are comforted by messages of the Comforter. Yet, who can comfort the pain of a mother holding her dead child? Who can ease the pain of lost innocence, the lost visions of kindergarten, football games, college graduations, weddings and the someday visions of grandbabies to love?
We find peace in the message of forgiveness. Could God's forgiveness extend extend to Herod after such a heinous act? Should there be any forgiveness for out-and-out murder? What about the horrific acts committed during World War II, in Cambodia and Vietnam, all involving the children - the innocent. Should there be any forgiveness for these?
These are some of the hard questions. We do not want to look too closely here, we'll focus on Joseph's obedience and move on down the page, thank you very much.
Yet, there is a message here for us. A message of warning and a message of power. A message of faith, of courage and of peace.
Because God was there. He saw the fear and hatred that ruled Herod's heart. The heart that conceived the evil intent to protect his kingship at any cost. The heart that exercised, to the nth degree, the free will given to all men.
God was there as the deed was done. He did not shrink back and hide from the event. He watched as free will went to the darkest place of the human heart and killed the innocence seen in the life of a 2-year-old.
Yes, God was there. He was there when " A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more." (Matthew 2:18)
He was at Rachel's side, it was he who offered the comfort she refused, exercising her free will as surely as Herod and his henchmen exercised theirs.
And God was there, waiting, should Herod, or the men of Herod who carried out his edict, one day recognize the horror of their actions and fall before him, seeking mercy. And that forgiveness, offered to each of us, was available to them.
This is one of the hard places. Our concept of justice come undone with the realization that salvation is given freely to all who will receive it. Our concept of a righteous God allowing this most unrighteous act to happen at all is horrifying until we stop to realize that it is free will at work, and if Herod couldn't exercise his, we can't exercise ours.
Our limited understanding can't comprehend why God doesn't stop these crimes against his creation. But we must remember that when he does stop it, it stops for everyone, and the day of reconciliation is gone.
And here the reality of how real our free will is, is revealed in the decisions made by Herod and by Rachel.
"'Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?' declares the Sovereign Lord. 'Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?'" (Ezekiel 18:23)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him together.
Originally published Feb. 16, 2000 in the McCook Daily Gazette