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For most people who observe Christmas, whether in church or just as a holiday with presents, the holiday is a joyous occasion. However, there is one part of the Christmas story which is largely forgotten, and which can be found in Matthew 2. (NIV here)

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”



And so it was that with one of the most joyous events in the history of the world, there was also great pain and mourning for all the little children who were slaughtered on the whim of a tyrant. In the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre, many people are trying to reconcile the incredible pain of this horrendous tragedy with the joy of Christmas. However, even from the Bible itself, we see that this has always been so, and that despite the incredible sorrow, we should still continue to live with joy.

(The traditional estimate of the toll of Herod's purge is 14,000. The Eastern Orthodox Churches commemorate this on December 29th - just four days after Christmas. Also, a haunting icon in commemoration. )
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James 4:13-14 (ESV) Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

From reports on the internet, last night Andrew Breitbart went about his daily business, tucked his kids into bed, took a walk in the neighborhood, stopped by a local bar and talked politics, did some twittering, and on his way back home, collapsed and died. The man was 43 years old. He leaves behind a wife and four children, and thousands of fans as well as many who could not stand the man or anything that he stood for.

I had the chance to see Mr. Breitbart speak in 2010, and he was one of the most engaging speakers I have ever had the chance to listen to. Many have characterized him as a "happy warrior", someone who with all cheer confronted those who worked to shout or tear him down. His favored method of dealing with these people seemed to be holding up a proverbial mirror and letting them make fools of themselves in front of the whole world. At the event I went to, there were people who were bussed in to protest; Mr. Breitbart confronted them and asked them questions about why they were there, and the answers were completely incoherent. I don't feel that he ever had malicious intent toward anybody, yet he had skill in calling out the hate directed at him and making it ridicule. (Strangely enough, I think of a parallel between his methods and the way Boggarts are handled with in the Harry Potter series.)

Life is a gift. Forty-three years on this earth goes by in but the blink of an eye, and yet, by all accounts, Mr. Breitbart used the time he had to live life to the fullest, to make every day count, to actually go out and achieve something grand in the small amount of time allotted his lifespan. How many of us can say the same? I know there have been times in my life when days seemed to plod on, days of falling into despair, days of seemingly being put on this earth for no reason in particular. Mr. Breitbart may have had days like these himself, but in all the praise for him from those who knew him well to those who didn't, it seemed as though he had an indomitable spirit, a joie de vivre, that also served to inspire those around him.

Joy is a concept that is rarely discussed in this day in age; we may be amusing ourselves to death, we may be seeking the road to happiness, but joy is something much deeper, and is something that comes about not with self-esteem, but in the deep conviction that one is living the life that one was designed for and accepting the gift that life is every day and multiplying its blessings. None of us can be certain that we will even see tomorrow and so it is imperative that we take the talent that we have (or which we have been loaned) and really do our best to fulfill our potential in all that we do.

Mr. Breitbart's life shines forth so brightly because he took each day as it came, enjoyed it to its fullest, was bold in his beliefs, and was genuinely kind to others. In that sense, I'm sure he was more "ready" for being called away from this earth than most. Mr. Breitbart's death certainly is a sad event, however, even sadder are the legions of people who see this life as a wasteland, who, if they would die tomorrow, would not have accomplished anything that their lives were meant for.

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September 2013

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