Contrary to popular opinion, the Christmas story is not all sweetness and light.
Lost in our usual Christmas shuffle of gift-giving, carol-singing and candle-lighting is the sobering tale of the “slaughter of the innocents” recorded in the Bible.

According to Scripture, King Herod, who some scholars surmise suffered from paranoid personality disorder, ordered the slaughter of all children born in Bethlehem under the age of 2 to rid himself of an alleged competitor to his throne, a newborn named Jesus.

This bloody rampage occurred in the region where a famous biblical character named Rachel died centuries before.

So horrible was Herod’s crime that the Bible says Rachel wept inconsolably, from her grave, over the slain children.

One wonders if Rachel and a host of other mothers are weeping from their graves these days in the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

As most of America knows, a 20-year-old reportedly suffering from a personality disorder and various other emotional problems forcibly entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School and proceeded to gun down six adults and 20 children, all 6 or 7 years old.

Even the president of the United States wept publicly as he addressed our nation about this heartbreaking slaughter of innocents.

Many of us have also shed tears as we watched the nonstop media coverage of this nightmare.

My hope is that our collective tears may not only be relieving our grief but restoring our sight.

The Scriptures speak often of blindness not in the physical sense but in terms of spiritual perception.

That’s because we human beings are often blind to realities staring us in the face. Only when the “scales fall from our eyes,” to use a biblical phrase, do we finally see what begs to be seen.

Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, the scales fell from our American eyes in dramatic fashion.

Suddenly, we could no longer deny that we live in an incredibly violent culture where mass shootings are almost routine, where not even our children are safe in a suburban school.

Suddenly, we could see that living in a nation where one life is claimed by gun violence every 20 minutes – and 30,000 are gunned down every year – is more than we can bear.

The Bible testifies that Jesus was born “when the fullness of time had come.”

Today we stand at the threshold of a signature moment pregnant with possibilities for new clarity and courage to see what we need to see, and do what we need to do. We dare not let this moment pass us by.

It’s time to see that our teachers and principals are remarkable professionals who give of their best to educate our children, and are willing to give their lives if necessary to protect them.

As the husband and father of women who teach, I see first-hand the sacrifices teachers make daily on our behalf.

It’s time to resist facile explanations for complicated realities, like the suggestion that the Sandy Hook massacre is the consequence of removing prayer from our public schools.

Would God really employ such a barbaric form of punishment? And besides, how do we explain the shootings that have occurred in churches?

It’s time to refuse the false choice of either removing all guns from America or freely allowing the distribution of any and all guns, including military assault weapons designed for war.

We must ask our political leaders to find ways to respect our Second Amendment rights while also safely regulating the ownership and use of guns.

It’s time to acknowledge that our mental health system is woefully inadequate, in part because it is woefully underfunded.

Many clergy know this because they routinely see untreated mental illness on display in their congregations.

We must treat mental illness with the same intensity and resources as physical illness.

We must admit that ours is a culture that glorifies violence, especially in our movies and video games.

What may have passed as mindless “entertainment” now looks lethal when combined with an abundance of semi-automatic weapons and deranged minds.

It’s time to find ways to balance freedom of expression with the preservation of life.

Until we reach that day when “mourning and crying will be no more,” life’s inevitable tragedies will bring us to tears.

And the saddest tragedy of all will be our mindless state of blindness and passivity in the face of such senseless violence.

David Hughes is pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. This column first appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal.

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