Have you ever noticed that Christmas tends to be more about wants and desires than desperate needs? We want the promises of Christmas– joy, peace, goodwill, love. But I’m becoming more convinced that the promise of Emmanuel, God with us in Jesus Christ, has more to do with meeting dire needs of ours than our dreams of tinsel and sugar plums. It certainly has nothing to do with all the fuss we normally associate with Christmas.
To show you what I mean, I want to share a Christmas Scripture you’ll never see in a story book or rarely ever hear in a Christmas service. We find it at the tail end of the story of the Magi. If you remember, King Herod (Caesar’s puppet king of Israel) had asked the Magi to report back to him once they had found Jesus in Jerusalem so that “he, too could go and worship him.” Yeah, right. Ever the scheming, violent, and paranoid despot, Herod was looking to personally wipe out any threat to his kingship. But the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and to quietly slip out the back door of Judea. Brace yourself for what happens next…
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.” Matthew 2:16-18
Merry Christmas, right? Now you can see why churches tend to steer clear of this kind of story during “the most wonderful time of the year.” But I’ve come to embrace this Scripture because it shows us exactly why we need Christmas, why we need God’s gift to the world of his only begotten Son.
There is incredible evil in the world and in even in our own lives, too, if we’re honest. Meanwhile we yearn for something or someone to save us– a new leader, a new idea, a new revolution, something that will deliver us from the ever-present danger of ourselves. In the message of Christmas is the answer for our desperate needs: God himself born into the poverty of a manger, born into a world of corruption and despotism, to be the Savior and Lord we so badly need.
Believe what you will about the claims I hold that Jesus is our Savior and Lord. I’m not going to get into religious arguments about that. But I am going to do what those first shepherds did by sharing the Good News with joy, and allowing you to believe it as the greatest, truest story or not. But I know the difference this Jesus born in a manger has made in my own world and life of Herod-like evil! That’s enough to convince me that what those ancient gospel writers wrote and shared with the world is more true and alive than anything else I know.
To close, I want to share a quote from Richard B. Wilke’s Advent study, Christmas: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
My Savior came into Herod’s world– our world, my world– to change evil into goodness, hatred into love, violence into peace, sin into salvation… Let’s keep Herod in Christmas to avoid sentimentality, to remember that a world saturated with sin desperately needs a Savior who can transform the human heart. (pg. 13)
Now that’s a Merry Christmas worth having on any day!