Where Is God?
Where Is God?
Matthew 2:7-12 & Matthew 2:13-23
So, just to be clear… I know it’s the Christmas Season… and this is the 1st Sunday of Christmas, and the 5th Day of the actual Christmas season… and believe me, I’m not trying to depress you all this morning! I’m going somewhere with this sermon, if you’ll just bear with me for a few minutes, we’ll all get there, together…
There’s a story told by a survivor of a German concentration camp, whose name is Eli… he tells of witnessing the execution of three men, who’d all been part of the underground resistance and had been captured by the Nazis – and sentenced to death. However, the fact is… one of the three men was just a boy. Eli said that when they were hanged, the two large men died almost instantly – which is the way such executions are designed to work… but the boy… because of his much lighter weight – took much longer to die… as he was slowly strangled.
The Jewish prisoners in the concentration camp were all forced to watch the execution… it was part of the sadistic cruelty of the Nazis. And all through out the horrible ordeal… a man standing directly behind Eli, asked out loud, “Where is God?” Over and over, he asked that haunting question… “Where is God?” Not asking for God’s geographical location… but rather expressing an indescribable frustration and feeling that God had abandoned this boy, and all the other prisoners. Here was a young man who’d risked his life to save other people. How could God let this happen? Had God forsaken his own? Where was God?
Of course, it’s not a new question, then or now. When we experience injustice… or tragedy… or heartache… people have always asked, “Where is God?” It’s the ultimate cry of desperation… springing from a troubled and grieving world… especially in times of grief and pain and sorrow. We’ve all asked, or will ask, that question.
We’re all familiar with the story of the Wise Men… or Magi… who’d followed a star to Bethlehem to worship the King of the Jews with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh! But right on the heels of that story… is another… that’s both tragic and disturbing.
King Herod… in his plot to wipe out this rival “King of the Jews” wanted to use the “Wise Men” to find Jesus so he could eliminate this threat to his throne. But, as the story goes, the Wise Men were warned in a dream of Herod’s lunacy… so they traveled home another way.
So, when Herod realized he’d been outsmarted… he did the most despicable and heinous thing imaginable. He ordered the murder of innocent children…
Of course, God intervened and warned Joseph of Herod’s plans – so Joseph packed up Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt – fulfilling other prophecy. Jesus was saved! Of course, Jesus was destined to die… but not yet. God intervened to save Jesus!
But doesn’t that just beat all? God intervenes to save his own Son, the Messiah, while countless others die. I don’t know about you, but there’s part of me that wonders, “What about these children?” What about their parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters? You know, it’s fine – it’s great – that God intervened to save one… but why didn’t God save the others? Where was God?
Again… I know I’m not the first to ask such a question. Countless Christians have asked the same thing… and arrived and different answers.
Some have said that the “Slaughter of the Innocents” created the first Christian Martyrs and therefore they all went straight to heaven and have a special place in the kingdom of God.
Others argue that by saving Jesus, even at the expense of others, that countless souls have been saved, so it was somehow worth it – in the long run.
Still others say that the death of these children was the result of free will. After all, God has blessed us with a free will to choose good, or evil. And like it or not, Herod had that same free will. And his choice… his free will… had devastating consequences.
And then there are those who suggest that such events and tragedies are unavoidable. It was their destiny; I suppose you could say. They were predestined for such a fate… so you and I should just accept it – along with all the other bad things that happen in life.
It’s strange… that no matter if you’re a “free will” advocate; or a proponent of predestination: we’re all left with that nagging question, aren’t we? Where was God?
Of course, there’s a chance – just a chance – that you and I may have overlooked a very important part of this story. After all, this story’s (ultimately) not about King Herod, or the Wise Men – and it’s not even about the innocent children. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Emmanuel… it’s about “God with us.” Jesus is at the center of this story.
So where was God in the Slaughter of the Innocents? Well, God was right there, in the middle of it.
Remember our friend, Eli, from the beginning of my sermon? As the man behind him in the concentration camp asked, “Where is God?” – Eli responded, “He is there in the Gallows.” God was there – suffering along side those who were suffering – while bringing salvation, hope and comfort, even in the face of death.
Listen: God was and is anywhere people are suffering. Isn’t that what the story of Christmas is really all about? God coming into the world, in the midst of our suffering and pain, to bring comfort and salvation – and in the end, to suffer and die, too.
Where is God today as thousands die in wars and/or poverty? God’s in the same place he was when David faced Goliath – God’s right where he was when Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego were tossed into the fiery furnace – and when Daniel was thrown into a den of hungry lions. God’s in the very same place he was when Jesus was being whipped and nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers who failed to understand what they were doing. God was there – with them – in their midst.
Sometimes we’re guilty of looking for God in the beautiful and holy and pure – especially during Christmas. We look for God in our celebrations, and family gatherings, and Christmas programs! We look for God in ornate churches and inspirational services… and God is certainly in all those places, no doubt! But our scripture gives us another place to look for God…
Because if you and I really want to find God – we’ll find him wherever his people are crying out in pain and suffering. We’ll find God in the slums, and hospitals, and nursing homes, and cancer clinics. Go to the war town parts of the world where children and still being slaughtered… and you’ll find God in their midst.
You may not recognize him at first, but through Christ and the Holy Spirit, God is there. Because He’s there in the presence of his people – faithful people – people a lot like you and me – who tirelessly give of their prayers, presence, gifts and service in the hopes of sharing the love of God with those who need it most.
As Christ’s body – that’s our job – our calling. To bring a little comfort and peace – a little hope and love – to those places and people who need it most. When you see that happening – you can rest assured – you have seen God at work. You’ve seen Emmanuel; you’ve seen God is with us.
So where is God, amid all the strife and brokenness of our world? He’s here… he is right here…