Most people think of Christmas in terms of a pre-school pageant with angels, shepherds, friendly animals, and gifts. The reality is far darker.
War of the Wives
In Genesis 29:31-30:24 Rachel and Leah are vying for the affection of their shared husband Jacob. As they are in labor, they see dimly through the curtain of time, and prophesy the future of Israel as a nation as they name their sons. At long last, Rachel has a son herself, and calls his name Joseph, or “adding”, saying “the Lord will add to me another son.”
A Voice Weeping in Ramah
In the wilderness just west of Ramah, while traveling toward Bethlehem, Ephrath, a woman cries out in anguish, her cries echoing in the desolate hills and down through the centuries. Her husband has been told to return to his ancestral city, and her baby has chosen this inopportune moment to enter the world outside the womb. It is Anno Mundi 2240 (~1800BC), and there are no inns to turn them away. The woman is Rachel, and Rachel is dying. As she dies giving birth, with her face toward Bethlehem and Jerusalem, time and space begin to compress, and like Mr. Well’s hero, the walls of her tent grow transparent and she sees the events of the centuries around Bethlehem compressed into a few moments.
Ghostly warriors run by her, cutting down the men fleeing east from Gibeah toward Ramah. The ground is littered for miles with 25,000 corpses of the fallen - all valiant warriors. They are her children from six centuries later. All but 600 men of the children of Benjamin - her children - are slaughtered while fleeing from Gibeah toward Ramah to the East in a bloody civil war. Rachel weeps for her children that will be no more.
Then she hears the voice of a man speaking her name. It is Jeremiah the prophet, another six centuries later warning Judah,
Thus says the LORD, “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.” Thus says the LORD, “Restrain your voice from weeping And your eyes from tears; For your work will be rewarded,” declares the LORD, “And they will return from the land of the enemy. “There is hope for your future,” declares the LORD, “And your children will return to their own territory.…
Now there is a crowd of young people around her. They are in chains, and they are being led away by soldiers in metal armor. The soldiers speak like Chaldeans from the north. As they leave, one of the captives turns and smiles at her through the intervening centuries, as if to say, “Don’t worry! ‘Israel’ - God rules!”
Pastoral scenes alternate rapidly with unspeakable atrocities as another six centuries go by. Then she looks toward Bethlehem again, and she sees soldiers in strange armor bearing the emblem of a golden eagle, advancing on the tiny village. She hears a voice, and turns to see a man, unmistakeably the young man among the captives, but now an old man. He says,
“But rumors from the East and from the North will disturb him, and he will go forth with great wrath to destroy and annihilate many. “He will pitch the tents of his royal pavilion between the seas and the beautiful Holy Mountain; yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.
But what are the soldiers doing? They are not cutting down opposing warriors, they are going house to house and killing the toddlers. Mothers are screaming in anguish, and their screams seem to intensify Rachel’s own anguish, and she cries out anew in despair.
She hears a voice hear at hand. It is the midwife saying, “Don’t despair, for you have another son!” Rachel names him Ben-Oni, “son of my sorrow”, before the world fades away altogether.
When the son is presented to his father Jacob, Jacob changes his name to Benjamin, “son of my right hand”.
Eighteen centuries later, one toddler escapes Herod’s soldiers by fleeing to Egypt. He will be called a Man of Sorrows. But after his anguish, his Father will say to him, “sit at my right hand”.