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The Christmas Story Seldom Told

Happy Epiphany! In just 2 days, Christians will celebrate the coming of the Magi to visit the child Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). Those wisemen brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Much can be made of the significance of the gifts- they celebrate Jesus as king and priest, and one born to die. We can learn from the dedication of these Magi who searched until they found Jesus. We can join them in worship as they bow before the King of kings. But for most of us that is where the story ends… with verse 12: “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” With our beautiful creche scenes complete, we move on to other things.
But last night I sat with a group of curious teenagers who read the rest of the story. These Genesis students dig a bit deeper than we usually do. They are willing to ask the uncomfortable questions and wonder about the harder realities of this world. They wanted to know about Herod and why he was so interested in finding Jesus. I told them of how Herod had ‘protected’ his throne by killing all those who seemed to be a threat… including his wife, two sons, his brother-in-law and a string of advisors whose advise he did not like. Our teens rightly concluded that Herod was not to be trusted with information about where a ‘baby king’ could be found. And then we read the rest of the story (Matthew 2:13-18)… of soldiers sent by Herod to kill “all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under”… of mothers “weeping and refusing to be comforted because their little ones were no more.“ Our teens were horrified. They wanted to know how many boys lost their lives. Biblical scholars estimate the number to be between 10-20 lives lost in the slaughter. We concluded together that any number lost was too many.
Most of us skip this story when we remember the drama of Christmas. The blood of innocent babies would mar our peaceful creche scenes, and the weeping of their mothers would bring a dissonance to our beautiful carols. So… we stop at verse 12 and then pack up our decorations until next year. But today, I want to argue that this painful chapter is essential to our understanding of the Christmas story. Without the soldiers and swords dripping with blood, we could easily conclude that Jesus came into an idyllic world… a peaceful world… where mothers cradle their babies while their adoring husbands look on. We love the world of Silent Night- “Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.” But that is NOT the world in which we live. We live in a world ravaged by a pandemic, where the health and safety of our people has become a political football. We live in a world where children go to bed hungry, and opportunities are unequally apportioned to those in power. We live in a world where children cannot play safely on our city streets because every day in Philadelphia people die from gun violence. Last year, the Epiphany celebration on January 6th was overshadowed by a riotous mob intent on harming our duly elected lawmakers. They built gallows intended for the Vice President. They attacked police officers who risked their lives that day to defend and protect. One brave officer lost his life in the struggle. We would like to think that January 6, 2021 was an anomaly, but instead it is a snapshot of the world Jesus came to save.
Our gracious God intentionally sent His Son into the brokenness of our world. He came as a poor, homeless, unwelcomed child. Before Jesus reached the age of two, He and his parents became refugees, fleeing an evil king willing to kill to protect his power. Years later, Jesus focused his ministry on the poor and powerless. He healed the sick and fed the hungry. He defended the powerless against a world intent on stripping them of their worth. And then Jesus chose the cross, scorning its shame, to conquer the brokenness that we all face. We call Him Savior because He and He alone can save us from the evil around us and the evil within us. How desperately we need the Savior who was born into a Matthew 2:13-18 world.
If you have been touched by the evil of this world… if you have participated in the evil… if you feel overwhelmed by the evil all around us… join the Magi today as they follow the star to the Savior. He is our hope for 2022. He is our peace even in the storm. He is our joy even as we struggle. He is the One whose love conquers all. May we reclaim January 6th as the celebration of the Epiphany- when wise people seek the King of kings.
With you following the star,
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