The dark side of Christmas
"When Herod realised 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." Matthew 2. 16
With news of people retaining their Christmas decorations this year, to combat the gloom of lockdown through extending the festive cheer, it seems reasonable to return to the theme devotionally too. Especially as the sinister codicil to the Christmas story is too often omitted from our cheery liturgies and nativities. One can understand why but somehow the story is not complete without the chilling account of Herod's wickedness and cruelty. This is not to engage in morbid fascination but rather to give expression to the gritty reality of Jesus' birth. There was danger, not only from the rough physical circumstances in which it took place, but also from the mad despot whose jealousy knew no bounds.
Sadly many face similar circumstances today. Millions are born, live and die in abject poverty. Millions more are persecuted for following Jesus, regarded as outcasts in their homes and villages, as traitors to their countries, as fair game for mistreatment even death. The dark side of Christmas speaks to those in such predicaments. It presents God as one who enters their suffering voluntarily, out of love. And because it connects with the rest of Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension, it also brings hope. Because this same Jesus is their (and our) advocate in heaven and he is coming back to bring justice and salvation to all who trust him.
So let us not shy away from the unpalatable parts of the Bible, nor from the difficult articles of the faith we profess. All of these add substance to what we believe. They are what makes Christianity relevant in the world and equal to its challenges. But also let us remember the children. The first martyrs, though they were too young to realise that they were being killed on account of Jesus. But they will receive their reward - and their grieving parents too. Meanwhile Herod and all who perpetrate evil will be judged. We too must be held accountable for our failings, which is why it is necessary that we submit to Jesus and let his sacrifice on our behalf cover those sins, so that we are judged on his righteousness not our shortcomings.