Summary: God, in Christ, is with us. His presence is our hope and our peace.
“‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).”
Christmas Eve, and the world is at peace. Or is peace only a vague and puerile wish? Conflicts continue unabated throughout the world. Governments are in continuing turmoil as they attempt to “fix” problems they themselves have created. Worse yet, human beings, even small ones, sometimes die in horrible and unfair ways. One year ago, Christmas arrived under a shadow of dark sorrow in a small Connecticut town. A mentally deranged young man—not much more than a boy—slaughtered twenty children and six adults in a gun free zone. More recently, in Centennial, Colorado, another young socialist intent on killing as many people as possible, was stopped by a good man armed with a gun. Though a greater tragedy was averted, nevertheless, a young woman named Claire Davis ultimately succumbed to her wounds and died.
When parents die, they take a large portion of the past with them; when children die, they take away the future as well. The death of a child must surely qualify as one of the most terrible insults that any parent would ever suffer. We could endure walking through the dark valley alone more easily than to join as the latest recruit in the world’s army of bereaved.
What does all this dark talk have to do with Christmas? Good question! Some individuals have described the Christmas Season as one of the most stressful periods of the year. It is not because we remember that God became man that the season is stressful; it is because we fail to remember that God became man that we experience stress. Our tendency is to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves and on those who share the season with us. We emphasise family and set the season up as a time of personal fulfilment, neither of which situations is wrong nor even particularly unworthy of our aspirations. However, we do live in a fallen world; and even as we vainly attempt to shove the rude intrusions of the world from conscious though (if only for a short while), new fears assail the peace and new tragedies arise to disturb what serenity we had hoped to find.
Things haven’t changed much in the past two millennia. A child was born of a virgin. This was no ordinary child; He was announced as the King of the Jews, God’s Anointed One. However, there was no palace for this child—a manger in a roughhewn cave where animals were usually sheltered would be his first crib. No showers would honour His birth, though shepherds would come to worship, bringing with them an account of angels announcing his birth. Later, Persian scholars would arrive, bearing rich gifts to present to the infant.
The arrival of these scholars would upset the kingdom into which the child was born. One account of His birth tells us that the king, like modern despots who have travelled in his same path, “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” [MATTHEW 2:3]. That is an understatement! Herod, the king in the account, was determined to cling to power regardless of the cost; even if it meant murdering his own children, he was determined to permit no threat to his power. Like modern Korean despots, he would murder anyone who disturbed his peace. Thus, it is accurate to state that when the king was troubled, all Jerusalem would be troubled with him.
The king, murderous soul that he was, endeavoured to find the child. He didn’t want to worship the infant—he wanted to ensure the child’s death. When his devious efforts were thwarted, he ordered the murder of all children born in the vicinity of the small village in which the child was born. It has always astonished me how the birth of God’s own Son was the cause of such heartache for others. Place the two verses in juxtaposition:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel
(which means, God with us).”
“Herod … became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in that entire region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” [MATTHEW 2:16].
Imagine! God with us! And His presence became the reason for deep sorrow. Understand that unlike legends circulated among some religious practitioners; likely no more than a dozen children were killed. Bethlehem was a small town, and Herod only ordered the death of infant boys two years and under. It was a needless and futile effort by the maddened king because God was protecting His Son. Still, in several homes in the little town of Bethlehem, mothers and fathers wept bitter tears at the brutality displayed toward innocent children. Grandparents would have reacted with stunned silence. Neighbours would have perhaps tried unsuccessfully to comfort parents who could not be consoled.