There’s a part of the story we don’t like to mention.
It’s never going to make it into a nativity play or onto the front of a Christmas card, it’s rarely spoken of in a Christmas service, and in many ways it would be easier if we could just forget that it is part of the story at all.
I’m talking about King Herod’s response on finding out that the wise men had outwitted him and had returned home without telling him where he could find the baby king he saw as such a threat to his power:
“He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.” (Matthew 2:16 NLT)
There’s no way to sugar-coat it. Herod’s actions were brutal and they were evil. He used the power he had in an appalling and despicable way, and caused deep sorrow and heartache for many people.
We rejoice in the birth of a baby boy at Christmas, but it’s easy to overlook the many families whose own joy at the birth of their baby boys was quickly overshadowed by horror and grief.
As with all seemingly pointless suffering, our instinct is to ask why. Why did God allow this? Why did so many families have to suffer? Does this really have to be part of the story?
We may ask the same questions about circumstances we face or the suffering we see around us. People are hurting and evil seems to flourish and we can’t understand why.
There are no easy answers, but there is hope.
We catch a glimpse right there in the passage:
“Herod’s brutal actions fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A cry was heard in Ramah – weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”” (Matthew 2:17-18 NLT)
Those verses may not seem hopeful at first glance but they point to the fact that God was still sovereign. Herod’s actions were not a surprise to God and they were not an unforeseen disruption to his plan. That doesn’t answer the question of why he allowed it, but it show us that God was still in charge.
There is also hope in the fact that Herod’s ultimate plan – to kill Jesus – did not succeed. He was rescued and taken to Egypt until the threat of Herod was gone.
But the real hope in the face of evil, the ultimate hope in whatever circumstances we face, lies in what Jesus came to do:
“The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8 NLT)
There was another day when evil seemed to flourish, when it seemed that evil had won the ultimate victory as Jesus, battered and bruised, hung on the cross and breathed his last.
But evil did not have the final word. Jesus rose to life and, while there is still evil in the world and there are still times when the consequences of that evil are devastating, there is no question about who wins in the end. Jesus has won the victory and, no matter what trials we face for now, we have a wonderful future hope of eternity with no more sorrow, death, crying, or pain.
All these things will be gone forever.
“Because God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.”
(Hebrews 2:14 NLT)
“I have told you all these things so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 NLT)
Join me on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout Advent for more Christmas Hope! Links to all the posts in the series can be found here.