It’s a Christmas story that is rarely, if ever, talked about during this season of “peace on earth and goodwill to men.” The focus, rather, is always on the baby Jesus and his parents, and the shepherds and wise men who came to visit them. Of course, this is understandable, given the divine nature of Jesus’ birth and the meaning it holds for humankind. And it is such a “feel good” time of the year when we celebrate the joys of faith and family. So why spoil it with a story of horrific tragedy that came directly as a result of Jesus being born?
Do you know the story of which I am referring? If not, you should because it puts Christmas in a much more realistic light than often is portrayed in our places of worship.
The story is found in Matthew 2 in two sections:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”(Matthew 2:1-8; 16-18 NIV)
The magi have long been a fixture in the Christmas story, but not so with the toddlers and infants slaughtered at the command of Herod. Yet, the echoes of their deaths have reverberated down through history the cost that can be paid for any association with Jesus. This is what is so often missing in the telling of the good news of Jesus coming to our planet. As he was later to warn, he did not come to bring peace on this earth.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39 NIV)
While those of us in America and other western nations find this difficult to comprehend, our brothers and sisters in nations such as China, India, Pakistan, the Middle East, and many nations in Africa find themselves in perilous situations because they dare proclaim allegiance to Jesus. They experience death threats (often which are carried out), prison, torture, loss of employment and social status, and continual harassment.
The reality of Christmas, with all of its warm and inviting images and tugs on our hearts by many of our childhood memories, is it is a harbinger of the trouble he said we would have as his disciples (John 16:33) Herod set the stage by attempting to murder him, determined never to give him the worship he is due. Nothing has changed 2000 years hence. As a whole, the world refuses to worship him and submit to his will. It is in rebellion against him and anyone truly associated with the Lord will be considered a threat. Thus, the consequences may be severe.
Yet, the joy we celebrate at Christmas is that Jesus came and overcame. His entrance into our world proclaimed God’s love for us, and his death and resurrection verified his ability to overcome whatever trouble is visited upon us. The message of Christmas is both reassuring and a warning. It is a message of hope that the Savior has come. It is a message of warning that to worship and follow him will cost us much. And yet, we should always be mindful that in the end, our hope will be fulfilled and our troubles put aside for ever and ever.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
© Jim Musser 2018