Recently, my little guy and I read aloud The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. (If you haven't yet, I highly recommend taking a couple of hours to enjoy this little book.) I'd read it years before, but while revisiting this gem, I was reminded just how amusing and unattractively truthful are the events the story details. There's the narrator's mother, trying to conduct a Christmas pageant that's always been led by another woman who unfortunately has injured herself. And there are the various "church" people who pretty much exemplify why so many folks steer clear of organized religion. By and large, though, the most entertaining characters are the story's antagonists, The Herdman kids: a band of troublemaking near-orphans who've never set foot in church until they hear about the free refreshments served therein...
One thing that stuck with me was the outrage some of the Herdman children felt when they heard that King Herod had gone unpunished for his evil (but thankfully unrealized) intentions to murder the Baby Jesus. Herod apparently died many years later of natural causes, and one Herdman kid was flummoxed and thought that the pageant should feature the hanging of King Herod instead of peaceful manger scenes.
I thought about that a lot, how we as a pop culture are fascinated by murder and murderous thoughts, and how we want justice unless it falls on our own heads. I pondered the history of men, even the Biblical history, and how often murder shows up. There's David, lusting after some babe, and he has his way with her and then has her husband killed in the front lines of battle. Yes, he was sorry, but still... And there were other murderous kings, not just Herod; many earthly kingdoms have been won and lost based on which king has been murdered. Women have been murdered because of their aspirations, or just because a younger and sexier woman came along; brothers have been murdered because they were the favorites. Children have been murdered because they were a burden, or the new girlfriend or boyfriend didn't like them.
I like to believe that we as a people are not so base, so cruel and selfish. But we are. I spoke with a friend recently who detailed how her elderly neighbor had died recently, and she explained point by point why she felt certain his children had given him an overdose of morphine. You know what? I think she's right. This wasn't an elderly man on his deathbed, or suffering from terminal illness. This was a man my friend had just visited, who'd been in good spirits, who'd received a pacemaker and was feeling quite chipper. His daughter won't let people see him, he dies suddenly, and the day after the funeral the daughter's ex-husband, which whom her father had not gotten along, suddenly shows up at the house again. Coincidence?
My own neighbor down the street a few homes? Her sister died mysteriously—drowned in the bathtub. A few months later? Her widower husband remarries. Nothing can be proven. But it surely makes you wonder, doesn't it. I don't know if any charges have followed because I'm afraid to ask the neighbor; it's not the sort of topic we feel comfortable broaching. "So, was your sister murdered?" God forbid we call it what we think it truly is; that would be so unpleasant, so morbid and sordid and all those other unattractive adjectives that we'd rather not have to use when we describe human nature.
But I suspect this sort of thing happens much more than we realize. It's not just on television. There's a great movie, one of my all-time favorites: Crimes and Misdemeanors. It's a Woody Allen film from the 80s, and yes it's a tad dated, but mostly it holds up beautifully. (Even though I think Woody is a perverted near-pedophile weirdo, I also happen to think he makes great movies.) This film is a thought-provoking piece, mostly because it twists together a series of bad, somewhat-related events, and leaves the characters (and the viewers) to decide which of those events constitute real crime—true sin in its most base form. It shows people at their very worst: evil, selfish, thoughtless, unkind, cheating, stealing, even murdering. It's a disturbing idea, but it's done so artfully that you are left feeling rather somber and disappointed—in people, generally, and that so much crime goes unpunished.
We really are a murderous bunch of cold-blooded killers, deep down. I'm very glad we have a savior, and that nothing can separate us from Him. Even David, that killer, was still a friend of God. Still, it's a pretty unflattering and humbling history to bear.