Note: The is an excerpt from a 25 Day Advent Journey I am writing with my church to help us prepare for Christmas. If you would like to engage in the journey with us, sign up for daily readings and reflections by clicking here!.
The Paradox of Pain and Persecution in the Christmas Story!
The story of Jesus’ birth is full of paradox. It is both beautiful and messy. He was born to bring salvation to humanity and yet there was no room for him in the inn. His arrival was heralded by a host of angels while first night on earth was spent in a dirty stable.
The advent story is full of hope and sorrow. While Jesus embodied the salvation plan of God for the world as a baby, in today’s passage we read that his arrival was met by fierce and violent opposition. When Herod, the ruling king in Jerusalem, heard about the birth of baby Jesus, he ordered the murder of every baby boy in the city of Bethlehem and the surrounding region. This massacre of innocent children stands in horrific juxtaposition with the gracious and selfless humility with which Jesus entered the world.
Matthew 2: 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…
The Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Ruebens captured the agony of this portion of the story of Jesus birth in his masterpiece, Massacre of the Innocents shown below. Many advent readings plan leave this portion of the story out, presenting a sanitized, cleaner version of the events. While these details and images are emotional and grotesque, they help us understand the cost of our salvation and the limitless love of God to pursue a restoration plan for us in spite of the tremendous cost.
Jesus is polarizing. He has from the time of his birth until today, evoked controversy, conflict and consternation in the hearts of each person who encounters him. Today’s passage reminds us that the story of Jesus is not neat and tidy. While the good news of salvation has resonated deeply through the centuries with those who have chosen to follow Jesus, it has come at great cost. And yet God so loved us that he was willing to send Jesus to enter this world, with full knowledge of the controversy and conflict, the opposition and oppression that would ensue. As we reflect on the these parts of the Christmas story today, may it remind us of the words of the apostle John, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, ESV).