Category Archives: Lament

Prayer of Tears

It’s time to prepare the way of the Lord. So far we Harrells have complied with the summons to “cry out” (Isa 40:6), but I can’t say we’re shouting about anything so profound as the Lord’s advent.

The subject of our sobs? Raiment. Violet’s shrieks suggest nothing less than death by inseam.

For the procession to Zion, even pants of the softest fleece are pronounced anathema. John the Baptist’s camel hair would be shed. Shoes that do not sparkle are beneath her. On the highway of our God, she’d rather go barefoot than wear sneakers.

At this rate, we won’t be dressed in time for Christmas Eve services, much less the second coming. We weren’t yesterday. Decorative flowers poked her delicate neck. I removed the offending frock and replaced it with a non-ticklish garment. Loud weeping increased to loud lamenting.

“You’re leaving me?” I wailed to Daniel.

“I don’t know what to do!” he cried and kissed me good-bye.

He made it to church on time. I did not. But then, church is his job. They pay him money to proclaim the impending Day of the Lord. I, on the other hand, have spent significant portions of personal prayer time on the subject of temper tantrums, sometimes how to avoid my own, mostly how to help Violet through hers.

This morning I didn’t even want to read Matthew. What could he have to say about tempers and crying?

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was in a furious rage. He sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more’” (2:16–17).

How do you measure patience with one overwrought child against the slaughter of perhaps thirty others? Where, in the Harrell household bawling, is the Christ child? He’s hustling off to Egypt while Herod’s military massacres Bethlehem’s sons in his place.

Skies that resounded so recently with angels proclaiming “unto you is born a Savior” now fill with the grief and defiance of mothers shrieking “Nooo!” Matthew doesn’t answer their prayers of grief. Maybe his own explanations sound trite to him. Instead, he quotes a prophecy.

Jeremiah 31:15 depicts Rachel, the matriarch of the tribes of Israel, crying over her disobedient children as they are marched past her grave, into captivity. She’s buried outside Bethlehem because that’s where she herself died, sobbing, as she gave birth to her troublesome descendents (Gen 35:16–19). In Jeremiah’s dream, God comforts Rachel by promising to save her exiled children, those who “are not.”

For “those who are not,” Matthew appeals directly to God. The baby murders of Bethlehem were Herod’s fault, but no amount of human justice could have healed those mothers’ broken hearts. God was not responsible, but being the only one who could right the wrong, he held himself accountable.

God’s own son, the Christ child, grew up to keep his Father’s promise. With the birth of Messiah, Jeremiah’s prophecy began to fill out. Jesus’ death in our place accounted for senseless evils throughout history. In his resurrection, human hearts will be healed or punished utterly.

Then my little maiden will rejoice. Her mourning will turn into joy. God himself will comfort her (Jer 31:13) and give her a garment of praise instead of her spirit of heaviness (Isa 61:3). Until then, the best I can do is help her dress for the parade.