The Old Testament canticle for Lauds this morning is from Jeremiah (14:17-21). Every time this one comes around on the cycle, I think of what is going on, not just in Iraq, but in a wide swath of nations running from Afghanistan into north and central Africa
Let my eyes stream with tears day and night without rest,
Over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.
If I walk out into the field, look! those slain by the sword;
If I enter the city, look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.
Have you cast Judah off completely?
Is Zion loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow that cannot be healed?
We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
We recognize, O Lord, our wickedness,
the guilt of our fathers;
that we have sinned against you.
For your name’s sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.
It’s easy to look at all the terrible violence in our world and throw up our hands in despair. I’m often tempted to do that myself. It’s helpful to know that our ancestors in faith wrestled with the same thoughts and even brought those thoughts into their liturgy.
Christmas both fulfills and confounds our messianic hopes. What we long for is—as tonight’s Vespers antiphon suggests—a “King of all the nations,” someone who will put an end to all of this violence and suffering that seems so senseless. But what we receive is a helpless child. From the very birth of that child, the powers of the world are conspiring to bring about His death and in the end He does not resist but gives them what they seek.
Is this the messiah in which we place our hopes? One whose response to violence is not to overwhelm it with even greater violence, but to trust in the coming of the kingdom that even now is present among us like a mustard seed? Do we have the courage to place our trust in such a messiah? To follow in His path? To carry His cross?
Well, do we?