Celebrating Christmas when Tragedy Strikes!
The birth of Christ did not eliminate Evil
The birth of Christ provides hope for eternity
The birth of Christ provides Comfort through his presence
Christmas is one week out. For some, the excitement of gift giving, of gathering with family and friends is exhilarating. Those who find it exhilarating usually are those who love to decorate the house, buy gifts, plan get togethers. The holidays are a glorious time of excitement.
For others, this season can produce great stress. The list of things to do and people to buy for can be stressful in itself, but then add to that the financial strains of gift giving and things can become truly depressing for some.
Add to those usual culprits of holiday depression a tragic event that has occurred in their life, such as a job loss, or bad news about the health of a loved one or even the death of a loved one, that holiday depression can easily turn into despair.
How will a person ever be able to celebrate Christmas again, when they have some big tragedy now associated with Christmas?
Turn with me to Matthew 2:13-23
We are going to see if we can learn from the tragedies that happened around the time of the birth of Christ and occurred as a result of His birth and try to understand these in such a way that will help us keep a proper focus at Christmas so we can truly celebrate Christmas even when tragedy strikes.
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "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."
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."
16 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. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 "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."
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead."
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."
In this story, we find out just how evil Herod is. To maintain his throne and his power and to wipe out even a potential threat to his rule, he orders that all the boys 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem, be killed.
He doesn’t care that these are innocent children. The only thing he cares about is eliminating the one born “King of the Jews.”
Arguably the most glorious time in history, the birth of the Savior into the world, which is announced by angels and honored by Kings, being marred by this most evil of tragedies.
How could this happen?
Well, if we are going to truly recognize and celebrate some of the things that the birth of Jesus into the world accomplished or God at least put into motion, it is important that we understand truth recognizing some things it did as well as did not do. The problem is that we sometimes believe things about what the birth of Christ accomplished that are not true, and it can negatively affect our entire life.
So the first truth we need to realize is that
The Birth of Christ did not eliminate evil in the world
The event of the deaths of these children in Bethlehem is a clear example that evil is still in the world. Satan continues to operate and people continue to reject God and pursue evil.
This act is evil pure and simple. I can’t even imagine what these parents and the people of this village are experiencing.
It is estimated by some commentators that in this small village and in the immediate area, there could have been between 10 to 30 boys in this age range.
The horror that these parents experienced as they began to realize what the soldiers who were entering their town were doing I imagine was overwhelming. I imagine that some mothers and fathers died trying to protect and save their children, but to no avail.
This town is left with pain and tragedy just at a time when the world should be celebrating.
We can hear and only begin to imagine what is experienced by the words in
Matthew 2:18 - "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."
The birth of Christ did not eliminate evil in this world. It did not eliminate it for those who experienced it in Bethlehem. It did not eliminate for us today. In fact, the Scripture tells us that wickedness will increase as the second coming of Christ approaches (Matthew 24:12).
Tragedies will continue to occur in people’s lives throughout the year and even around Christmas. Wives will lose husbands. Children will die due to disease and senseless violence. Difficult diagnosis’s will be received.
Some may ask, Where is God in all of this? Isn’t he Sovereign? Isn’t He in control? Couldn’t he have stopped this killing? Couldn’t he have kept these boys alive? Couldn’t he have kept your loved one alive?
How and why do we celebrate the birth of the Son of God when life continues to be filled with such terrible tragedies and evil that continues to abound and death continues to occur, especially to those who are young and those of faith?
What is there really to celebrate if the coming of the Holy One did not eliminate evil?
Well, as I said, the Birth of Christ did not eliminate evil in this world, but,
The birth of Christ does provide hope for eternity
We live in a world that is still scarred by sin. The effects and consequences of sin have not been eliminated in the present by the coming of Christ.
There is a time coming, however, when God tells us that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
While evil has not been eliminated currently, the birth of Christ did provide a way for us to live in hope even while we continue to live in this world. It comes from keeping a clear understanding of what we have been created for and what God has in mind for us.
We have been created for the glory of God and He has created us for an eternal relationship with Him. Because of sin, that relationship has been severed. However, God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son to come into this world and be the sacrifice for our sins and the means of restoration of relationship.
Jesus is the only way for that restoration to happen. When we receive Jesus as Savior, believing in Him for our salvation, we glorify the Lord and are restored into relationship.
We continue to glorify Him as we live in this sin scarred world by faith, keeping our focus on Him and looking forward to our future eternal hope .
We see examples of faithful followers doing this throughout Scripture.
In the letter to the Hebrews, the author talks about many of the Old Testament saints who lived by faith in Hebrews 11.
Listen to what he says after listing some of the faithful followers of history.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
God has prepared a future filled with hope for those who follow Him in faith, believing in the way that He has made through His Son. It is only because the very Son of God came to this earth as a babe and lived and died that any of us have hope for eternity.
Too often we are living in this world as if this were our home. When we do that, we set ourselves up for disappointment, depression and despair.
If we are to live a life of fulfillment and even celebration in the midst of tragedies, then we have got to keep our focus on the eternal and our hope for future glory, and not seek to live as if this were our home.
And even in death we do not have to mourn like the rest of the world when we lose loved ones who are believers in Christ Jesus and have received Him as their Savior. Paul tells us that we do not have “to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Instead of mourning, we can celebrate the fact that we will be with them again in eternal glory.
And while we know there will be those who reject Jesus Christ as Savior and die eternally separated from Him, we know, as Scripture tells us that, there will not be any who have an excuse, because as we read in Romans 1, God has made the knowledge of Himself plain for all men to recognize through Creation and through our consciences.
Infants and Babies
But what of infants and babies or those who die in the womb, or do not have the mental capacity to understand right and wrong, good vs. evil? What of them, like these babies who were killed in Bethlehem?
While Scripture does not clearly spell out what happens, I do believe Scripture gives us ability to discern their hope for eternity.
Scripture reveals God’s heart and love for mankind. We know that God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son (John 3:16) and Scripture tells us that God desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
We also know from Isaiah 7:15-16 that there is a time in the life of babies before they know enough “to reject the wrong and choose the right.”
Given God’s love and desire for men to be saved, and God’s own recognition that there is an age when babies do not have the mental capacity to understand right and wrong and to recognize their sin, I believe that God makes provision through the birth of His Son into the world and the shedding of His blood for forgiveness of sin, so that we might be able to say along with David, a man after God’s own heart, who lost his infant child, that while they will not return to us in this land that is not our home, we will go to be with them (2 Samuel 12:23) in heavenly home that God has been preparing for us.
Yes, because of the birth of Christ into this world for the purpose of sacrificing Himself and shedding his blood for the forgiveness of sin, He provides a hope for eternity and that is always something we can truly celebrate!
But what we can celebrate does not end there, even though that would be worth celebrating.
The birth of Christ also provides comfort through His Presence in our lives.
The birth of Christ does provide Comfort through his presence
In Matthew 1:23, we see that Jesus was to be called Immanuel which means, “God with us.”
The God of the entire universe, who is creator of all things, who made you and me in His own image, came into this sin scarred world, born of a virgin, born as a baby.
The author of Hebrews says this about Christ.
17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
We was made like us in becoming a man and he went through the things we go through, yet never sinned. He experienced temptation, and we see that he also experienced grief when he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, even though he knew He was going to raise him up momentarily.
Being able to celebrate Christmas does not mean that we will not weep or feel pain during tragedies or losses in our life. Celebrating Christmas when tragedy strikes means that even if we weep, and feel pain, we do not despair.
We do not despair because we have hope for eternity and the comfort of His presence in our life through the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was going to leave this earth, He told his disciples that
“It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
Now, even though Jesus is not present physically on this earth, those who believe in Him have him indwelling them through the Holy Spirit. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit of Jesus is our Counselor, our Comforter who is present with us 24/7, never departing from us but always there to provide comfort for us in our times of trouble.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
Yesterday in our men’s study, Todd Newton shared his testimony about how God has worked in his and his wife’s life through a terrible accident suffered by his wife in 2003, 2 days before Christmas, after they had been married only a few months.
It was a terrible tragedy and the effects of that accident continue to affect their lives today. But as he shared, it is only through his focus on Christ and the hope for eternity and the comfort of His presence that any of us can truly get through tragedies and even in fact celebrate Christmas when tragedy strikes.
What about you?
What is going on in your life that is making it difficult, if not impossible for you to celebrate Christmas?
Are you facing tragic news regarding the health of a loved one or maybe even yourself?
Remember that we have not been created with this earth as our home, but for an eternity with Christ. Have you received Him as your Savior? Has your loved one received Him? If they have, take comfort in the fact that we will one day be rejoicing together for eternity in the kingdom of the Lord.
And while you are still upon this earth, receive the comfort of the Lord through His spirit and through His church during the difficult times of tragedy.
These will occur until we are all home together.
Maybe, you are not facing health concerns, but the tragedy you are facing is a job loss or continued unemployment?
God is not beholden to the economy. He can help you to draw closer to Him during times of economic crisis. These are the times that James tells us to rejoice because trials help us to grow in faith and to mature.
It is during times like this that we learn to keep focused on Him, we learn that we have to rely on others and through that, His Holy Spirit comforts us and we can truly celebrate what Christ has done for us in being born into this world to live and to die for us.
Whatever tragic circumstance you may be facing, we can rejoice and celebrate that we have an eternal home prepared for those who trust in Jesus.
We can rejoice that the Holy Spirit of God makes his home in our heart and is there to comfort us in all of our troubles and tragedies.
Rejoice that He has brought you to a church that cares about you, and is here through the power and strength of the Lord to walk through tragedies with you.
We have all of that to celebrate because Jesus left His home in heaven and was born into this world to pay for our sins so that we might celebrate an eternal home and receive His comfort while we seek to bring glory to Him while we wait to be called into His eternal presence in Heaven.
If you are not able to celebrate that yet, because you have not received Jesus as your Savior, won’t you do that this morning?
The Bible tells us to confess with our mouth our belief in Jesus as Lord, as God who came and put on skin as a baby, lived perfectly and died to pay the price for our sins.
If you haven’t received Him, won’t you receive Him this morning so you too can celebrate the hope of eternity and experience the comfort of His presence.
If you need to receive Him, pray with me this morning and receive Him as your Savior.