When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through 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 are no more.”
My kids always loved playing with the Fisher Price nativity set under our Christmas tree. It was a good way for our kids to understand the story while being able to handle the characters without fear of them showing up broken around the house. The wise men in the set were always my favorites. Not only did they show the diversity of the “peoples of the world”, but they all had these sweet smiles on their faces. They reflected the story of the wise men I grew up hearing about…visiting the home of Jesus with gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.
But just like Christmas cards, the nativity sets don’t tell the whole story…they only reflect the glorious aspects of the birth of Christ. This isn’t a bad thing, but it leads us to forget the paradox inherent in the season. The story of the wise men is coupled with the killing of innocent children by Herod in Matthew 2. Why would Matthew include such graphic and atrocious imagery? Why do we never really hear or talk about that part of the story?
This is heavy stuff and Christmas is not supposed to be a heavy time. We work hard at creating ‘winter wonderlands’ and hap-, happiest times of the year for our family, friends and even for ourselves. But we must remember that Christmas is a season of paradox. Christmas is a season self-contradiction that expresses the truth that in God comes into a world that is violent, broken, and in desperate need of salvation. Matthew doesn’t hide this. Matthew tells the gritty and disturbing parts of the story. Matthew’s version of the Christmas story isn’t as far fetched as we may like to think.
Emmanuel, God with us, did not just draw near to us in all the good parts of our lives. God took on our lot and our life – all of it. He entered into a world of fear, dread and atrocity. And He continues to enter those parts of our lives. The good news of the Gospel is this…we do not face this scary world alone. God is with us. Even in the midst of a world that is filled with heartache.
Questions for Reflection:
- Read Matthew 2:1-18 again. How often have you heard verses 16-18 shared during the Christmas season? Why do you think we like to steer away from this part of the story?
- Think about the world we live in now. What ‘Herods’ do you see around us? Are there leaders or powers that seek to protect their power?
- Think about your own life this Christmas season. Do you find it difficult to be happy in a season that is supposed to be filled with happiness? Why?
- Take some time to think about the real, painful aspects of your life. How does Christ’s birth in a real, gritty, difficult world give you hope and comfort? Think of ways Christ can be born in your own difficulty and share that with a friend over coffee or lunch.