I don't know what emotions fill your heart when you think about the Christmas season, but I would hope that for most of you, Christmas is a joyous celebration filled with love and family and blessing.
Every year my family gets together and we eat delicious meals and snack on tasty Christmas cookies. We watch classic movies, we give gifts, we share stories, and we celebrate what the Lord has done.
Every year I thank God for the opportunity to relax and enjoy my family during the holiday, but every year, I'm reminded that the first Christmas was not at all a time of relaxation or celebration. In fact, you couldn't recreate a more discouraging, horrific situation than when Jesus was born.
Read the story below:
Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son."
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and 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 that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
"A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
A Violent Christmas
If you grew up in Sunday School and the biblical story has been a staple in your life (praise God for that!), this narrative might have the ability to become mundane and familiar. I hope this is never the case for you. I would encourage you to consider afresh this horrific Christmas story, not for the sole purpose of disgust and depression, but to increase your celebration of the birth of Christ.
You see, Jesus wasn't born into a world of comfort and luxury. Sure, we all know that, but think about what this story represents: from the beginning of his life until the end of his life, death - violent, brutal, murderous death - was hunting Jesus. That's not a job description or life calling that I would want.
What's so beautiful about Christmas is that the Son of God willingly came to a place where such unthinkable violence and injustice exists. Willingly! And while he managed to escaped the death sentence of Herod on this occasion as an infant, a royal death sentence would eventually fall on him again. He would experience a violent, gory, horrific death at the hands of wicked men.
So as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.
Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels' celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree - one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.
As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful.