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A Joyful Christmas?

Matthew 2:1-3 


"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, [2] '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.' [3] And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."

Matthew 2:7-8 

"Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. [8] 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.'" 

This 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 girls live. 

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 1-2)

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 His son. 

"And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way. [13] 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.' [14] And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; [15] 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.' [16] 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. [17] Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, [18] '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.'" (Matthew 2:12-18)

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, p. 76 

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 to celebrate. 

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. [53] For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. [54] 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. [55] O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' [56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; [57] but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [58] 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.

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