Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 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.” (Matthew 2:16–18)
As a child, I loved Christmas. It was not just the gifts, or the lights, or the food, but the story itself. The story to beat all stories! The miracle of miracles! God himself coming to earth. A young woman, a faithful husband, a star, a stable, shepherds, angels, strangers from the east, and even a baby: all the ingredients for a great story – an epic adventure!
Even as a child, however, there was a part of the story that troubled me. This troubling piece of the Christmas narrative would be glossed over in the Sunday School lesson, maybe briefly mentioned in the church pageant, but it loomed large in my mind.
It is a shadow in the midst of the brilliant light of the star of the east.
The shadow of which I speak is the murder of hundreds of innocent children by the madman King Herod the Great. Why the fly in the soup? Why the wart on the face of a beautiful story? Why the shadow in the midst of the brilliant light?
It seems to me that this is an important part of the Christmas story. I am reminded that never far from the joy of Christmas is pain and suffering and that light was desperately needed because the world was so dark that, though the light of the world entered the world, the world did not receive him. In the midst of the light of Christmas hovers the shadow of the cross.
This reminder should not dim the joy of the light of Christmas, but rather remind us that we have a God who was willing to enter the darkness, experience the pain, walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and conquer them all for me, for you, and for all who believe.
Heavenly Father, remind me that the Christian life, like the Christmas story, is not one that is absent from pain and suffering, but it is one that overcomes them through the power of the cross. In the name of Jesus Christ, the victor, amen.