The children’s television show Sesame Street had a segment called “Which One of These Things Doesn’t Belong?” The premise was simple: four objects would be presented. Three of the objects would be square and one would be a circle. Clearly, the circular object doesn’t belong. If we were to play that game with the birth of Christ, it would be clear which part doesn’t seem to belong. The birth of Jesus in a stable is familiar, as is the visit by the shepherds. The Magi coming from the far east to worship the newborn king fits well. But it is Matthew 2:16-18 that seems out of place.
“16 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. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “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.”
The murder of these children by the wicked King Herod is horrific and doesn’t seem to fit with the birth of the Messiah. This evil act aligns with what we know about King Herod. He was a very wicked man who even ordered the murder of two of his own children. He was also very insecure. He was afraid that when he died no one would mourn. So, he left orders that upon his death each family in the land was to have one member executed so that there would be weeping when he died. This man was truly evil. Yet, he could not stop the Messiah.
The existence of evil is beyond our explanation. As to the plan and providence of God, we are wise to keep silent humbly before God. But we do know that evil never has the last word. Matthew 2:18 is a quote from Jeremiah 31:15. The city of Ramah is mentioned as a place of weeping and loud lamentation. Ramah was the town where mothers had to say goodbye to their children as the Babylonian soldiers took them away to Babylon. One can only imagine the tears that were shed and the wailing that was heard as parents were separated from their children. The separation, however, was to be temporary. God promised a grand reunion.
Jeremiah 31:16-17 (ESV)
“16 Thus says the Lord: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. 17 There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country. “
There is hope even in the midst of overwhelming grief. It is interesting that Matthew says that the actions of Herod were to fulfill what was written by Jeremiah. The grief of the mothers in the time of Jeremiah reaches its climax as the mothers weep in Bethlehem. Not only that, but the promise of restoration and comfort is fulfilled. King Herod could not stop the Messiah! The grief experienced was real but Jesus will overcome death. He will turn mourning into dancing.
The celebration of Christmas is a mixture of joy and grief. There is joy as we celebrate the birth of Christ. There is joy as we open presents and make memories with family and friends. But the specter of grief is never far away. There
will be empty seats as we gather at the table. There will be memories of Christmas past that bring a tear. Remember that
God gives hope amid grief. The separation and pain we feel now is but temporary. The Messiah has come and brings hope and healing. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is recognized as one of the oldest Christmas carols, dating back to the 16th century. The words of the first verse speak of our hope.
God rest ye merry, gentlemen let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
It is my prayer that you will be filled with comfort and joy as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Merry Christmas, Pastor Mark