Jesus entering world to save it the real Christmas story
By John W. Maurice
Saturday, January 6, 2018
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’” — (The Bible, Matthew 2:13)
Welcome to Christmas. Does that sound a little strange since we celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25? If you are like me, you realized on Dec. 26 that the world had already shifted back into its normal gears. Political pundits returned to stirring up strife. Stores began to display Valentine’s Day cards and candy while the unsold Christmas cards and wrapping paper were placed on the clearance table. Radio stations resumed their genre of music, and Christmas songs and hymns were put away until next year.
The world seems to like the story of Christmas. Perhaps the themes of peace, joy and goodwill toward all people draw us to Christmas. The account in Luke’s Gospel warms our hearts as we read about a young couple making their way to Bethlehem to take part in the census. The hotels are full, but an innkeeper finds them a stall for overnight shelter. Mary gives birth to a baby boy, wraps him in swaddling clothes, places him in a manger bed, and angels sing “Glory to God in the Highest!” These familiar themes make for a beautiful, comforting, and hopeful narrative.
But it doesn’t take long for the story to turn from nice and comforting to brutal, harsh and violent. The wise men follow a star to see the newborn king. On their way to find Jesus, they go by way of Jerusalem and visit Herod, the political king of the Jews.
Herod was called Herod the Great because he consolidated a very large empire, but he did so in a cruel way. As soon as he was appointed by Caesar Augustus in 37 B.C., he assassinated the Jewish Supreme Court (members of the Sanhedrin). He slaughtered hundreds of other leaders. Herod was married to 10 women and had 15 children, 10 of whom were sons and destined to become kings. But he did not trust his own sons and ultimately killed three of them. Caesar Augustus said of Herod, “It is a safer to be a pig in Herod’s household than to be a son in Herod’s court” (Macrobius, Saturnalia, 2:4:11). You did not want to be a son in Herod’s family because you may be killed.
When those wise men asked Herod about the birth of a King of the Jews near Jerusalem, Herod became enraged. His insecurity and fear of losing power led him to order the slaughter of all male children two years old and younger.
This part of the story doesn’t get told on Christmas Eve, and it would never make a good Christmas card. If Jesus had come into a world where the worst thing that happened was a full hotel, it would be much harder to understand him as a vital part of our world. Jesus came into a world where people murder innocent children to preserve their power, a world where politicians care about their power above all else.
The Christmas story is about the Son of God entering a world where there is poverty, sickness, death and parents fleeing their homes to protect their families. The Christmas story is not about a nativity scene or a group of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. It is about a Savior entering a broken and messy world like the one we see on the evening news.
After Christmas we find ourselves back in the same old world on Dec. 26, but it’s not really the same world, is it? If there’s any happiness associated with Christmas, it must be on this side of Dec. 25. Eagerness and anticipation color the weeks headed up to the day, but on Christmas, the world changes. We walk away from the manger and back into our routine like the wise men. But, like them — hopefully — we walk away with the knowledge that the world can’t be quite the same any more.
The Gospel message is that God has sent his son into the world to redeem it. To restore it. To transform it. The Gospel is God’s good news for lost, evil, violent, thieving, rebellious, selfish, sinful humanity — good news that even we can be set free. Welcome to Christmas.
Cdr. John W. Maurice, CHC, USN (Retired) is interim president of Mid-Atlantic Christian University. The opinions expressed in this column belong to the author and may not be those of Mid-Atlantic Christian University.