Text: Matthew 2:13-18
A strange year!
Merry Christmas! Or, is it really a merry Christmas? For many people around the world, this year 2020 is one of those they would rather forget. I have friends and people that I know who are in hospitals right now; whose only prayer is that they will be able to breathe normally again. There are other frontline medical personnel who cannot be with their families today because they are taking care of patients. There are also others who would have loved to reunite with family members but they have decided not to travel because it is not safe to do so.
Two days ago, I and some of my family members were traveling from the countryside and on our way back my son commented that he had not seen any Christmas lights in any of the towns we had passed by. It turns out that this might be a Christmas without lights. It may not be a dark one but it might be somber. So, this is not your typical Christmas. Today as we commemorate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to reflect on what Christmas means in times of crisis such as these.
The Irony of Christmas
The message I am sharing with you today was triggered by a conversation with my friend about the story in Matthew 2:13-18. Christmas is often associated with glamor, festivities, lights, family reunions and happiness. This is all in order, and as the Lord permits and provides, we need to rejoice and celebrate the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. But there is another angle to the Christmas story that we tend to ignore—and I understand why. Why would we spend our time on a sad story on such a joyous day like Christmas? As preachers we don’t want to dampen the mood of our listeners. But I think this passage is appropriate for us today and through this season.
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.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 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.”
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.”
During the first Christmas, there was not only angels singing, and much celebration. There were also massive murders, weeping, mourning and dislocation. The Christmas story is one when God embraced our humanity with it’s potential for greatness but also its fragility. In this story we learn that the birth of Jesus Christ triggered a mass massacre of innocent and defenseless boy children by an insecure king who was afraid of the new king. Herod certainly misunderstood the nature of the kingdom of God. He thought that by murdering children of two years and under, he might be able to kill Jesus. Matthew quotes Jeremiah to highlight the great weeping and mourning of the mothers—the daughters of Rachel—who lost their children.
I think this passage speaks to us who live in Uganda in very concrete ways. We are in a season of elections and many of us would agree that the stakes are very high. The sheer amount of violence and death of innocent people that we have seen so far is unprecedented. This in many ways reveals the heart of our leaders—insecure, fearful, heartless. We need to pray for our nation for sobriety and peace.
The story in Matthew 2:13-16 exposes human vulnerability. Those in power are vulnerable because without it, they have nothing to hold onto. They kill and oppress to preserve their power. Those without power are defenseless and harassed by those who are meant to protect them. In many ways the coronavirus pandemic has also exposed our vulnerabilities at different levels. There are many of us who are yet to come to terms with the losses we have suffered this year—whether it is of loved ones, jobs, businesses, health or relationships. That is why Christmas makes sense even in such difficult times as these.
Hope beyond Pain
God understands our suffering, pain and loss. He is not far removed from human suffering. He faced injustice first hand. He is familiar with corrupt and broken systems that work against the poor and vulnerable. He is familiar with the cries of mothers whose sons and daughters have died from illnesses that are treatable. He is familiar with the pain of someone struggling with mental illness. He knows what it means to be away from your loved ones when you need them most. He is aware of your struggles.
Therefore, however you are commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus, you can rest assured that God is right there with you. Ultimately His purpose will stand. The story does not end with wailing, loss and pain. There is salvation, restoration and hope. I pray that the reality of the birth of Jesus Christ will minister to you regardless of what you are going through. I pray that the grace of God will preserve you during these very difficult times. Merry Christmas!