The First Noel Was No Silent Night

The Not-So-Silent, Holy Night

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman… She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth… And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her Child he might devour it. She gave birth to a Male Child, One who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron…” (Revelation 12:1-6)

All was far from calm, little seemed bright, and as for the Holy Infant, there was no sleeping in heavenly peace. When God Himself came down and became flesh, even from the first announcement of His birth, chaos and confusion seemed to follow. God does not come quietly, He never has and never will. And His birth—the very Incarnation itself, the day the Word of God took on flesh—was no exception. The angelic broadcast that brought “Good tidings of great joy,” also left devastation and uncertainty in its wake. 

We Three Kings: What Peace on Earth?

“’Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled…” (Matt. 2:2-3)

The news of a Baby who would be the “King of the Jews,” was a threat to the lineage of Herod’s kingdom. So when he was told about this Royal Child, he found out what city He would be born in and told the magi to come back and tell him exactly where the Baby lived, “So that I too may worship Him.” But when the magi were warned in a dream not to tell Herod anything, he took matters into his own hands. What started as these men’s desire to worship, ended in a mass infanticide by a tyrannous, insecure, and jealous king. Herod ordered a massacre for all babies under two years old throughout the whole region just to make sure he got the right one. Imagine an entire city with almost every household filled with weeping mothers and helpless fathers, as thousands of families hold their cold and breathless bundles of joy. Even as I write this, the thought of soldiers kicking in our door as we are sitting down for dinner, and ripping Owen out of my wife’s arms as we experience the worst day of our lives, nearly brings me to tears. The question that should be ringing in our ears is, “Where is this peace on earth?”

Nothing Calm, Nothing Bright

“Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more’” (Matt. 2:17-18).

Think about it. Let the confusion linger in your heart as it did for thousands of tragedy stricken Jewish families that “Silent Night” in Bethlehem. Events like this and the injustice they carry are the seeds that give birth to atheism, and for good reason. The question that should be burning in our minds is, “If God is good why didn’t He stop this from happening?” If God can prophesy about this event in Jeremiah hundreds of years before and if He can warn Joseph in a dream to escape, then couldn’t He have prevented the whole thing? And the answer if we stay true to the Bible is yes, God could have prevented all of it, and He did not. And here is where we want to speculate. But doing so is usually our way of trying to make excuses for God; trying to make Him look good, or be more acceptable for the twenty-first century. The truth is God can defend Himself and when He gives clarity we should listen and when He does not we shouldn’t try to make Him more human or easier to understand by making up “good reasons” for why He allows these things to happen. We don’t know the fullness of God’s wisdom, but thankfully, while God doesn’t give us very much clarity, He does give us great hope. 

Good Will to Men

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

This massive infanticide happened about two years after the angels appeared to the shepherds giving them “good news of great joy.” Now, two years later, life has gone back to normal, the once astonished shepherds are back to sheep duty, Joseph is doing carpentry work again, and the world has moved on. Nothing has changed, no “peace on earth,” and all of the sudden a killing spree in response to the news of the toddler king. This devastating verse that is quoted in Matthew about a mass murder in Bethlehem was originally written in Jeremiah 31:15, sandwiched in a section filled with hopeful promises from God of Israel’s restoration. The whole passage in verses 15-17 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.’”

The “Good news of great joy,” is the promise of a final resurrection—justice at last, all wrong finally made right. God does not promise that we will not go through difficulty, in fact, He promises the opposite (John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12). But what God does give us is promise of final justice; true peace on earth.

The “peace on earth” that Jesus brings is not necessarily a peace in our relationships, nor in our chaotic lives, but it is peace with God. Every other religion gives man the task of striving to climb up to God on the mountain of good works, but only the Bible shows us the love of a God who came down to man. We are sinners. We are enemies of God. We deserve God’s wrath. But He offers us peace. And this peace is not just a truce between two enemies who decide not to fight anymore. It is more than just forgiveness. God doesn’t merely offer us absolution, He offers us adoption through the birth, and later, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The “Savior who is Christ the Lord” is called the Savior because He came to save His people from their sins and to reconcile them to God. The beginning of the story may be the tragedy of thousands dying at the birth of the Savior, but the end of the story is billions being saved by the death of the Savior. The angel came with good news. The good news of a God with open arms rather than closed fists. He is the God of mercy. His very name, Jesus, literally means “God is Salvation.” “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:1-8).

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