In this season of Advent, as we anticipate that most monumental moment in history when the Son of God was born in Bethlehem, it is a good thing to reflect on the whole story. Yes, it is a story containing wonder, angelic visitations, incredible miracles and great joy. Matthew and Luke’s accounts continue to amaze with the high drama of the great event.
If you study the birth narratives closely you will see on a number of occasions how Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled. How Jesus was born, where Jesus was born, who visited Jesus, even the gifts brought to Jesus, weren’t just co-incidental, but the culmination of a variety of messianic prophecies. One such is Jeremiah’s prophecy, in Jeremiah 31:15 quoted in Matthew 2:18, where Herod orders the slaughter of all the male infants in Bethlehem. We are, no doubt, familiar with the way the visiting Magi , having been warned in a dream, do not let Herod know where the Christ has been born. What then results, as a result of Herod’s jealousy and ruthlessness, is one of the most terrifying aspects of the Christmas story which rarely finds its way into our cosy Christmassy mindset. We should never forget that the story of the first advent has a dark side: jealousy, terror, brutality and slaughter. Herod was far worse than a pantomime villain. But the narrative also contains examples of great courage: The Magi ignoring Herod; and especially Joseph leading his young family in their flight to an unknown and inhospitable country, only to return after Herod’s death. It is also a fulfilment of prophecy that they returned to Nazareth (Matt 2:23), originally intending to return to Judah, then realising Herod’s son Archelaus ruled, and through a combination of fear and a dream, only then headed north back to Nazareth.
As we approach Christmas and enjoy all that accompanies it we should remember not just its wonder but its terror; not just its joy but its pain. As we make room in our hearts for the Christ who is the Saviour of the world we do well to remember the place he has in his heart for the least, the last and the lost.