Most of the Christmas story is touching, warm, and encouraging; but not all of it. There is a hard part of the Bible’s Christmas accounts.
The hard part isn’t Joseph’s intention to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant. We understand that; but when he learned the truth about her pregnancy he proceeded to marry her.
We are sorry there was no room in the inn in Bethlehem for the expectant parents, but that isn’t the hard part either. Things worked out in the cave, barn, or whatever it was — the feeding trough (manger) was just fine for baby Jesus’ first crib.
The first visitors to see the baby weren’t from the upper class, but neither is that the hard part. The lowly shepherds were elated to receive the angelic message. Not only that, after they visited the newborn baby they became the first believers to share the good news.
The hard part of Christmas is Matthew’s account of the later visit of the Magi and Herod’s response to their report of the birth a king. He was “disturbed” and lied telling them to let him know when they found the child so he could “go and worship him.”
Herod’s initial plan didn’t work because God intervened through a dream and the Magi did not return to him. Matthew 2:16 tells us, “ 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.” The infant Jesus was not killed because God also warned Joseph in a dream about Herod’s plan and they went to Egypt.
Jesus wasn’t killed, but the hard part of Christmas is that other boys in the area age two and younger were. We don’t know how many, but some historians report there were anywhere from 30 to 60 boys murdered. It’s not surprising that the least talked about part of the Christmas accounts is Herod’s order to kill all the baby boys two years of age and younger. Pastor John McCallum calls it “A Dark Story.”
I clearly remember speaking many years ago at a Christmas Eve service about this hard part of Christmas. I was chastised afterwards by one unhappy attendee about the subject matter of my talk. Why did I throw a wet blanket on the celebration and make people sad on Christmas Eve? My answer: it’s a hard part for sure, but it is a part of the story.
McCallum notes, “God sent his only Son to be born into a world like this, a world where kings abuse power, people are victimized, and children are murdered, a world where children suffer and parents weep for them, a world where Satan has a foothold and where evil appears to win as many battles as it loses and sometimes even more. This is what people cynically call the real world.”
Even this close to Christmas we might remind ourselves that although the baby Jesus wasn’t killed, the adult Jesus was. Of course, that is why he came: as the angel told Joseph, to save his people from their sins.
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