christmas musings

I’ve been doing a lot of carol singing this year – loads of services at the Cathedral, specifically. We’ve been doing a couple of excellent settings of the Coventry Carol, one very medieval as would befit when the words were written (15th Century) and one more contemporary by Kenneth Leighton. The words come from the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors and tell of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents – when King Herod was asked about Jesus by the Wise Men, flew into a rage and ordered all infants (I think in Bethlehem but could have been further afield too) to be killed. Jesus and his family escaped because Joseph had a dream where he was warned of this and advised to flee to Egypt till things calmed down.

For some reason I’d never really thought this through before. Maybe it’s that I’ve spent a lot of time hugging and feeding a 3-month-old over this Christmas season that’s made it hit home quite the enormity of the story. The way my thinking has gone is something like: God undertook to cause a virgin (Mary) to conceive a child. Joseph (according to Matthew’s gospel) was told of this in a dream so that he wouldn’t freak out that his betrothed was pregnant. A star was sent to guide the Wise Men to Bethlehem so that they could worship the lowly born new king. So far all very interventionist of God, well and good. However when Herod flies off the handle, only (as far as we are told) Joseph is warned, so that I would guess hundreds or more children are killed, but Jesus gets away.

I know that we commemorate this in carols and things, but it does seem quite a brutal start to the introduction of the Bringer of Salvation to the world, don’t you think?

2 Responses to “christmas musings”

  1. Paul says:

    I’m biased, of course, but it is one of the more troublesome things about the idea of God. He could have chosen any means to make us suffer (and indeed could have chosen not to have us suffer at all), but decided that a few billion dying and descending to eternal torment was OK by him. In fact, given omniscience/omnipotence, it wasn’t just OK, it was *exactly* what he wanted.

    But as I say, I’m biased.

  2. Emma says:

    We can go round in circles for hours on this. My ha’penny – don’t forget about Free Will.

    God did not cause the Magi to follow the Star and show up at the palace nor cause Herod to react the way he did. Yes he sent a dream to Joseph, but Joseph could have ignored it – I’m guessing I would wake up after a dream like that and not move my family off to poverty in Egypt. (Not to mention the fact that as I’m not a Biblical literalist I take a lot of this telling to be about creating Jesus/Moses parallels than I do to be fact.)

    Yes, there is a whole bunch of interventionist stuff going on, but nowhere does God over-rule human thought or make people say & do things, that would make us all robots. You get a lot of references to God turning hearts, but never does God program humans, not even Jesus is of one mind with God all the time.

    It makes you wonder what would have happened if Mary had said no. ..

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