According to the book of Genesis, the third person ever to walk the earth suddenly and violently murdered the fourth person ever to walk the earth. “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Genesis 4:8b). We don’t know what Cain used to kill Abel – a rock, a tree branch, his bare hands – but we know it was not a gun. Guns would not be invented for many thousands of years, and lots of people would be violently killed in the interim. I’m not going to make an argument here for guns or against gun control – those arguments have been made and will continue to be made at other times and in other places. But obviously the problem with murder is not guns. It’s sin. I think we need to be having a serious discussion about sin control.
I heard yesterday that the town of Newtown, Connecticut had taken down their Christmas decorations, deeming it inappropriate to celebrate during this time of mourning. As Bob Flayhart, pastor of Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama (#theBobbyFlay) said yesterday, if Christmas is all about commercialism, then that is a completely appropriate thing to do. I agree. If Christmas is about giving gifts, acting nicer, parties, decorations, lights on houses and trees, and consumer spending, then Newtown has got it right: they need to take down the lights, hang black wreathes, and mourn the death of their children and neighbors.
But if Christmas is about the birth of Christ, if Jesus really was born, and really was God, and if heaven really did break onto the earth with a mission, then we need to celebrate Christmas now more desperately than ever before. You see, Jesus did not come to give us pretty lights, and to teach us to act nicer, and to give us a reason to give gifts. He came because he saw clearly the unthinkable horror and evil that walked the earth – the same evil that walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School, the same evil that walked into Columbine, the same evil that walked into a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, the same evil that filled gas chambers in Nazi Germany, the same evil that caused Cain to kill Able. He saw all that, and he came to earth to do battle with it.
It bears keeping in mind that Jesus’ birth was accompanied by a bloodbath – hundreds or thousands of infants and toddlers murdered in their homes. “Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18.) Death and mourning at Christmas is not a new thing. It’s as old as Christmas itself.
People, we don’t need to get rid of guns. We need to get rid of sin. But we can’t. Not by ourselves. If the problem was as simple as guns, we could put them all in a pile and burn them. Of course, that didn’t stop Cain, who found another means to commit murder. Cain’s problem (and ours) is sin. But we can’t just put our sin in a pile and burn it. I wish that we could, and some people will find someday that God will do just that, much to their dismay, but as human beings we can’t do that. But there is hope. Remember I said that Jesus came to earth to do battle? He came to do battle with sin and death. And he won. He’s the only one who could. And because he won, we can win through him. We can claim his victory as our own, if we only believe in him.
That is a reason to celebrate Christmas, even now, as we mourn. Especially now. We need Christmas. We need to celebrate the birth of the victor, the savior. Because he is the only one who can stop the Sandy Hooks of this world. He is the only one who can defeat sin. Right now he can do it in individuals, person by person. I hope you have asked him to do it in you. Someday he’ll do it for the whole world.