The brutal horror of Christmas
‘…weeping and great mourning…weeping for children…[mothers] refusing to be comforted because they are no more.’
This is not the Christmas story we are familiar with. It is neither the sticky sweet secularised Christmas of ‘holiday greetings’ and garish lights; nor the commercialised Christmas of mountains of presents and food; nor the religious Christmas of candle light and carols. This is a Christmas story with brutal murder of innocents; of genocide by a ruling ego out of control. This is a Christmas of countless tiny coffins.
Evil at the Nativity
It is taken straight from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. Not joyful songs of a baby’s birth but the bitter weeping of babies, so many countless babies, murdered. Of bereaved mothers’, hearts torn and shredded and empty.
We are familiar with many of the nativity characters – angels and shepherds and Mary and Joseph and the donkey. Our cute Christmas story books and children’s nativity sets and much-loved carols are full of these characters. Rightly so.
But one character is often forgotten, perhaps as we unconsciously swerve away from his repulsive actions? He’s not in any toy nativity nor pre-school drawing nor popular carol. Yet in Matthew 2 he makes up a major portion of the story (30% – more than Mary and Joseph put together). He is sinister and evil and dark. He is filled with hatred and fired by jealousy. He is power hungry and ruthless. Secular history knows him as brutal and heartless with no mercy or love. His name is King Herod. Insecure and threatened by the birth of a new king yet unable to identify precisely who Jesus is nor able to hoodwink the wise men to reveal his location he sets about the systematic slaughter of all boys under the age of two.
‘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. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”’ (Matthew 2:16-18)
Humanity’s Desperate Need
Christmas must be about humanity’s heart of evil so the miracle of Jesus is infinitely bright and beautiful and clung to and dreadfully, frantically desired. Human nature has not changed. The world is still as it was – broken, filled with evil and wickedness. And as desperately in need of a Saviour now as it was then. Peter encourages us to be ready to give a ‘reason for the hope that we have’ (1Peter 3:16). Hope we can offer even in the midst of the most horrific of events. The world needs a Saviour, and God loves us so much that in Jesus he has come as that Saviour.
Especially at Christmas the Bible is not blind
God does not turn a blind eye to horror. God does not whistle in the dark nor look through rose-tinted glasses. The birth of Jesus is not detached from reality – some moment of escapism, as if denying the horror and heartlessness of the world, and our part in that for a week of ‘peace and good cheer’ somehow compensates. Jesus comes, he is born, because the world is in dire need. Jesus comes because Herod lives still today.
Making more of Christ at Christmas
Certainly and essentially fill your Christmas this year with joy and gladness and celebrating. But escalate and magnify that joy beyond the shallow, anti-climatical focus on presents or carols or family this year. Allow the full story; all its characters including Herod to inform your understanding of Christmas. There is a reason God allowed Herod’s actions and a reason God had it recorded into the biblical account. A brutally stark reminder that the world is broken, and we broke it. And God came into the very heart of that evil and wickedness as Saviour. Herod and his actions should repulse us. And drive us with joy and desperation to Jesus, God with us, the Saviour of the world we so urgently need.
Tell your children the truth they already know
Tell your children. Show them what they already know: that the world is broken and they and you broke it. Cecil Alexander in ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ was wrong. “Christian children all must be; Mild, obedient, good as He.” We are not mostly like Jesus in the nativity. We are mostly like Herod. Blackened hearts needing light. Evil intent restrained only by checks and balances Herod’s power enabled him to disregard. Our children know it. They will see through our pretence and will grow thinking God must be blind to what is blazing obvious to them (and that perhaps we, their parents, are foolishly whistling away as the darkness encroaches too).
Don’t miss Herod out of your Christmas this year. The world is dark – Jesus is the light. Tell them it all so that the light might shine in all its darkness-crushing intensity.
‘The light shines into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it…The true light that gives light to everyone was (has now!) come into the world.’ (John 1:5,9)