It would be an understatement to say we’ve had a hard year. From massive hurricanes, wild fires and earthquakes, to mass shootings, white supremacist demonstrations and the #metoo movement, 2017 has been far from what you might call a good year.
And now here we are in the Christmas season.
Are we really just supposed to act like the previous eleven months didn’t happen, put a smile on, buy a fake tree and purchase gifts for family members we only see once a year?
I don’t think anyone could blame you if you wanted to take a break from the holiday this year. But if the injustice all around you is keeping you from getting into the Christmas spirit, it might be that you actually have the wrong idea about the real message of Christmas.
While we know the Christmas story is about the birth of our Savior, it often feels so far removed from what’s happening right here in our world that it seems to have virtually no implications for real life. In many ways the Christmas story feels like little more than just another children’s bedtime story.
But the first Christmas was actually far darker and more tragic than you may realize. In fact, you might be surprised at just how familiar the first Christmas feels to those of us living in 2017.
The First Noel Was No Silent Night.
When God Himself came down and became flesh, even from the first announcement of His birth, chaos and confusion seemed to follow. The angelic broadcast that brought “Good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10), also left devastation and uncertainty in its wake.
The part of the Christmas story that we tend to leave out of the narrative is in Matthew chapter two. We always talk about the wise men coming to see Jesus, but then we skip the rest of that story right before it gets to the part about the power-hungry tyrant who almost destroyed our favorite holiday.
But I think this might be the most important part of the story we need to talk about.
The megalomaniac who tried to steal Christmas.
The news of a baby who would be the “King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2), was a threat to King Herod’s throne. So when the wise men told him that they had been following a star to find this royal child, he told them to come back and tell him exactly where the baby lived, “So that I too may worship Him” (Matt 2:8). But when the wise men received a divine message to not tell Herod anything, he took matters into his own hands.
He ordered a massacre for all babies under two years old throughout all of Bethlehem just to make sure he got the right one. Jesus’ family managed to escape, but no one else did.
What began as a desire of these wise men to worship, ended with an infanticide by a tyrannous, insecure, and jealous king.
Imagine an entire village with almost every house filled with weeping mothers and helpless fathers as hundreds of families hold their cold and breathless bundles of joy. Unfortunately, it may not be all that difficult for us to imagine. All we have to do is think back to the news articles we read right after the tragic events in Las Vegas or Sutherland Springs, Texas this year.
This killing spree in Bethlehem took place less than two years after the angels appeared to the shepherds announcing a Savior who would bring “peace on earth and good will to men” (Luke 2:14).
The question that should have been ringing in the ears of that tragedy-struck village that night is, “What peace on earth?”
I think we can relate.
Jesus’ mission in coming into the world was to save people, heal broken hearts, reconcile relationships and destroy darkness. But that doesn’t seem to have been the outcome. So where is this peace on earth we were promised?
The hope of advent.
Many Christians celebrate advent. It is a time when we look back and joyfully remember the arrival of the Son of God. But advent wasn’t complete when Jesus was born. It isn’t finished yet. That’s why we still celebrate it.
Jesus came to the earth to save the lost. He ultimately did this through his death and resurrection. But he is also coming back again one day. And the promise of His return is the final advent. He is coming again to finally put an end to injustice.
We can celebrate Christmas despite, or perhaps even in light of, all the injustice we see around us because we celebrate in hope. We have hope that our Savior began the work of salvation two thousand years ago and will complete it one day. And we have hope that He will make every wrong right when He comes.
So let’s celebrate and remember the birth of our Savior, not as a children’s story that has no application for our lives today, but as the story of a Savior who understands fear and loss and tragedy, and who promises to make it all right one day.
We celebrate His first arrival by looking forward to His final arrival.
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