Tonight we sat in church and celebrated with hundreds a Christmas Eve service. There was good music and message and the proverbial ending replete with candles lit and singing Silent Night. Then we went home. I thought about how easy it is to be joyful when no one is shooting at you and the most treacherous aspect of the holidays is negotiating icy-snowy roads. How different it is for my friends in India, Kenya and Nigeria who have experienced the sudden upheaval of violence, barely escaping the hate of those who despise Christians.
Is it important to understand that in celebrating the birth of Jesus we must remember the cost it entailed and the warning that preceded it by the prophet Jeremiah? “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be consoled, because they were no more” (Mat. 2:18).
Matthew 2:16—Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men.
Bible scholars estimate at least twenty babies were slaughtered in and around Bethlehem by the edict of a cruel ruler bent on ensuring no king would grow up and challenge his throne. Why did God allow this carnage to happen? How do you think the mothers and fathers of those murdered children felt? Suppose any of those parents were still alive when Jesus came south from Galilee to minister. If they figured out the timing and disputed His messiahship how could they look at Him and not feel anger that His life meant their innocent son’s death! Do you suppose theymight have yelled “crucify,” with heartfelt anger?
Is it possible that we have an incomplete picture of Jesus’ arrival on earth? We readily make mangers but who constructs a memorial? Who sings songs of lament for babies unfairly eliminated and their inconsolable mothers? Who gets the context of divine birth?
Okay, I’m probably making you uncomfortable because this is not what you want to read on Christmas day. But bear with me, okay? God won’t create Gardens of Eden within a planet of evil. The gift of Jesus came with a price tag. Babies had to die because an evil ruler lived. God saw it coming and sent Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Egypt so His Son would live. Does that mean God didn’t love those families that lost their babies? You don’t think He heard the severe wailing in Bethlehem? You don’t think it grieved Him deeply—as does all sin that wreaks garbage and pain?
Whenever holiness confronts contamination there is a cost and pain. Noble Abel died at the hands of Cain. Lying Ananias fell dead before an offended Holy Spirit. Angels gave a joyful tribute. Mothers sang a Ramah dirge. Sorrow is fleeing Bethlehem in the middle of the night knowing that many of your new acquaintances will suffer unbearably. Sorrow is the growing specter of a cross foreshadowed by a feeding trough. Sorrow is inside the love that propels the Almighty to cover the sins of His children with the blood of His Son. And sorrow is an important part of the Nativity painting. It is the cost, not the scenery that makes Christmas special. It is the price of following Christ that many around the world understand while suffering, that should fuel our joy that the Lord Jesus bought our escape from a hopeless fate to a redeemed future. When we sing Joy to the World, let’s remember what powerful good news had to overcome. Something to think about . . . in reveration.
The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.—C.S. Lewis in Surprised By Joy
©2008 Daniel York ARR. Reveration is the weekly devotional ministry of First Cause. If you would like to receive these devotionals go to www.firstcause.org and click on the “Click here to receive weekly devotionals” box. Unlimited permission to copy this devotional without altering text or profiteering is allowed subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.
Ecclesiastes 12:10-The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and to accurately write words of truth. (Holman CSB)