How is it that Christmas is on the same day every year and every time it comes around I still get surprised. One day it’s turkey dinner and black Friday shopping, and all of a sudden it’s Christmas lights, caroling, and nativity scenes (although seems like there are less of those around these days). It’s such a great time: the air is festive, people are nicer, and we look forward to vacation and presents.
As I read through the account of the birth and early life of Jesus this morning, I was struck by how Matthew paints such a different picture than what we see all around us. Or rather, a more complete picture. I’m sure there were cute animals around and Jesus must have been an adorable cherub of a baby, but missing from the peaceful and happy scenes we see on Christmas cards and church displays is the every real and immediate evil that sought to kill the Savior of the world.
Matthew tells us that the ruler of the region, King Herod, “was disturbed” (Matthew 2:3) when he heard that the Magi were looking for a king. Herod sends them on their way and asks that they report to him when they find Jesus, pretending to want to worship as well. But, in reality Herod intended to eliminate anyone who would be a threat to his reign.
In 2:13, an angel appears to Joseph with this warning: “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” And sure enough, when Herod realizes that the Magi tricked hm, he orders the execution of all the boys in and near Bethlehem two years and younger (v16). This reminds me of those old Chinese movies where assassins are sent to kill the baby emperor, and he has to be protected until he is old enough to rule.
The Bible is unapologetic in its description of human evil, even that seen in the heroes of the faith. And of course, that is why Jesus entered into this world, to overcome evil and open the way to salvation. Why God didn’t just surround Jesus with a host of angels at all times, or just do away with all evil in one instance, I don’t think we will ever understand fully in this life. But we do have the hope that our God entered into the sufferings of this world, not as one immune and untouched, but as a helpless and utterly dependent baby who was fully affected by the darkness of this world.
Yes, Christmas is a time of joy. But not (simply) because of presents, days off, and potlucks. It is a time of joy because we have hope in what God has done for us, which was foretold long ago. Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The birth of Jesus happened as God had said. We can trust that His return and ultimate victory over evil will unfold according to the Scriptures as well.
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21