Movie of the Week: The Greatest Story Ever Told by George Stevens 1965
Clip: 13:45 – 18:30
Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:15-22; Psalm 40:1-3
New Testament: Matthew 2:1-18
Last weeks’ movie, The King of Kings did not include the Christmas story, but The Greatest Story Ever Told begins with the familiar tale of wisemen, a star, and the fearful Herod. If you can watch the opening twenty minutes or so, the movie offers a good opportunity to connect John’s lofty rhetoric with the grittiness of Jesus’ stable birth. The movie effectively dramatizes Herod’s order to have all the children of Bethlehem killed in order to root out the king the wisemen had come to see. It’s an easy part of the story to gloss over as a result of our familiarity, but today let’s spend a few minutes reflecting on the children who died because of Jesus’ coming. Have you ever considered that?
In the village of Bethlehem there were parents whose children were killed by the government because of Herod’s insecurities. Imagine the scars those parents wore throughout their lives. Maybe every time they saw Jesus or heard about him it was a reminder of their murdered child. Surely that scar remained an open wound for the reset of their lives. What’s especially jarring about this episode is that these children died as a direct result of Jesus’ coming into the world. In a way, they were the first martyrs.
One of the most challenging parts of the Christian faith to wrestle with is the persistent presence of evil and tragedy – even as we know the victory has supposedly been won. Why all the suffering? Why do the wicked still prevail? Why the misery of the impoverished all over the world? How can we still live in a world where children die of starvation? Where girls are taken captive and forced to work as sex slaves? The American church does not deal with lament well, but there is a time to lament the wickedness of the world. There is a time for us to remember the depth and horror of sin.
A few years ago, Christian songwriter Michael Gungor tweeted, “Approximately 70 percent of the Psalms are laments. Approximately 0 percent of the top 150 CCLI songs (songs sung in churches) are laments.” If you have a chance, read his article entitled, “Why Worship Music Should be Sadder.” The mass murders in Bethlehem offer a powerful reminder of the close association between being a follower of Christ and the ever-present reality of death. People die because of Jesus – maybe every day. The week I was writing this 24 Christians were murdered in Burkina Faso. It’s easy for us to read Jesus’ commission to “take up your cross and follow me” and “if you want to save your life you will lose it” from Matthew 16:24-25 and gloss over the deeper implications of what this means to Christians throughout the world.
Today is a time to mourn. Mourn for those around the world suffering because of their faith. Mourn for those who do not have the blessings and freedoms we do. Mourn that we don’t do more with the resources that we have at our fingertips. If you have time, find a U2 video of them singing the song “40” from one of their concerts – the words of Psalm 40 – and meditate on the question “How long?” The band often ends their concerts walking off the stage while the entire stadium sings the words of Psalm 40. Powerful.