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A Joyful Christmas?
after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,  'Where is
He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east,
and have come to worship Him.'  And when Herod the king heard it, he
was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."
Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the
star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, 'Go and make
careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me,
that I too may come and worship Him.'"
year, while mourning the loss of loved ones and with the events of 9-11
fresh in my mind, Christmas seemed different. Personally, I needed the
season for my own emotional well-being. I found the music and customs of
the season comforting and welcome. It was good to remember the words of
the angel, "behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be
for all the people;"
(Luke 2:10 NASB)
It is joyful news to the
shepherds, and it was joyful news to you & me, but it wasn't joyful
news to King Herod.
Herod was a man of contradictions.
He could be both generous and cruel. During economic downturns, he would
ease the tax burden on the people. In BC 25, he melted down some of his
own gold to buy food for his starving subjects.
But he could also be cruel.
Especially when he became insecure because of a potential challenge to
his throne. Among those he killed because of his insecurity was his wife,
his mother-in-law, and three of his sons. The Roman Emperor Augustus said,
"it was safer to be Herod's pig than Herod's son."
Sometimes his cruelty couldn't
be explained by his insecurity. When he was in his seventies, he knew that
he would soon die, so he ordered his men to imprison the most distinguished
citizens of Jerusalem so that when he died they could be executed. He knew
that no one would mourn his death, but by killing good men, he knew there
would be mourning at his death. (Barclay, vol. 1, p. 20-21)
Herod's reaction to the news
that "The King of the Jews" was born, is predictable, though not understandable.
When his insecurity kicked in, he had a knee-jerk reaction and ordered
the eradication of all male children.
The killing was senseless.
The killings terrorized the people. During the last time this sort of killing
of innocent children happened, the deliverer Moses arose to deliver the
people from the tyranny of Pharaoh.
The children of Israel were
proliferating while captive in Egypt. Pharaoh took notice of their strength,
and ordered the midwives to kill all male children when they were born.
But because the midwives feared God, they disobeyed the command and let
the boys live. So Pharaoh gave a second command, this time the people had
to cast their male children into the Nile river but they could let the
When Moses was born, his
sister put him in a basket and placed him in the Nile river, near where
Pharaoh's daughter bathed. Pharaoh's daughter discovered the child and
took pity on him. Moses' sister offered to find a wet nurse for Moses on
behalf of Pharaoh's daughter. That's exactly what happened. She took Moses
home to his own mother, who raised him until he was ready to move into
the Pharaoh's palace. He learned his faith from his birth mother and the
politics of Egypt from his adopted mother, Pharaoh's daughter. (Exodus
A deliverer arose amidst
the cries of the people. Later, God used Moses to deliver His people from
Egypt. But in the season of Herod's infanticide, God used Egypt to shelter
having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed
for their own country by another way.  Now when they had departed,
behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, 'Arise
and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there
until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy
Him.'  And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and
departed for Egypt;  and was there until the death of Herod, that what
was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying,
'Out of Egypt did I call My Son.'  Then when Herod saw that he had
been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all
the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two
years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from
the magi.  Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet
was fulfilled, saying,  'A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great
mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.'"
In the midst of the suffering
of the people, Joseph took his family to Egypt, as the Lord told him to,
but later he would return home with his wife and child-Jesus' death was
delayed for a time. His blood would not be shed along with the senseless
killing of innocent children, instead, He would die between two thieves.
But His death would not be a senseless tragedy, it would be for the salvation
of the world.
There are some vivid similarities
between the first Christmas and this Christmas. Like the first one, this
one was a season of mourning sprinkled with joy.
About a month ago, I read
an editorial written by Anna Quindlen, for NEWSWEEK that I've thought about
several times. She wrote, "Christmas this year could be rich, not only
with lessons learned over two millennia, but those driven home in the past
months. Not in many years has the country had more reason to believe that
'I'll be home for Christmas' is infinitely more important than 'Santa Claus
is coming to town.'"
-NEWSWEEK, December 3, 2001,
When I read her words, I
only wanted to add one thing, and it would be this phrase, "Joy to the
World, the Lord has come" is the most important message of all.
During a time of grief and
despair, the comfort of the Christmas season is welcome, but the joy of
the Christmas message is essential. It gives depth to our hope and a reason
In the midst of suffering
brought about by a wicked king, a deliverer, Jesus-Jehovah is Salvation-was
born. And in the midst of our current suffering, Jesus' birth takes on
special significance. We know that there will always be pain and unexplainable,
senseless killings as long as sin runs rampant in the world. But just as
Jesus was born into a cruel, insane world, He is going to return into our
cruel, insane world, and when He does, the perpetrators of the crimes of
His day and ours, will give account for their actions, and the crooked
will be made straight.
Paul wrote: 1 Cor. 15:52-58
" . . . in
a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet
will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal
must put on immortality.  But when this perishable will have put on
the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will
come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.
 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;  but thanks
be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding
in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."
Our deliverer will return.
Until then, we remain constant on our watch and steadfast in our faith.