The Story of Jesus

chapter8

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, 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. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” –Matthew 2:16-18

Look at all the pieces of your Nativity set sometime. There’s Mary and Joseph, and baby Jesus of course (can’t forget him!), some shepherds, perhaps an angel, probably some animals, and then there are those wise men. (Of course, the wise men didn’t get there until a little later, but that’s okay; they come with presents, which means they’re kind of Christmassy, so I guess they can stay). If your Nativity set is extra fancy, you might even have a stable or a star.

Are you missing any pieces of the Christmas story? What about the soldiers?

“The soldiers?” you might ask. You probably don’t remember seeing soldiers on any Christmas cards. But the soldiers are actually an important part of the Christmas story, only we usually forget about them because they don’t go very well with our nice, sweet “silent night,” “peace on earth” view of Christmas.

You see, the Christmas story doesn’t end with the angels or the shepherds, or even the wise men coming to visit Jesus. The Christmas story actually ends with something terrible, one of the most terrible things in the Bible: King Herod, angry that the wise men didn’t hand Jesus over to him, sends his soldiers on a murderous rampage and kills every single little boy in Bethlehem.

That’s terrible—I don’t even want to think about it that much because I might cry (after all, I have a little boy, just the right age to have been killed in Bethlehem). That horrible violence certainly doesn’t fit on any of our Christmas cards. But it’s a really important part of the Christmas story. Because without it, our Christmas runs the risk of being so cheesy— “away in the manger,” “peace on earth,” snow and mangers and presents—that we might never really have to think about why Jesus came in the first place.

Jesus came because our world is really, really messed up. People do bad things to each other. Terrible things happen, sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose. People get hurt, people die, people cry. Our whole world is filled with hurt and death and tears. Ever since Satan tricked Adam and Eve to try life without God, Satan has been doing his very best to make hell on earth.

So, when the angels announced, “Peace on earth,” they weren’t just singing a sweet song. It was God declaring war: war on Satan, war on sin and suffering and crying and pain and death. Christmas is the violent beginning to a violent war story: which side will win? Hell on earth, or peace on earth?

The story starts with blood and tears on Christmas, and keeps going right up to the blood and tears of Good Friday. It will take the death of this Savior to beat the power of sin and death and hell. But the story doesn’t end there: the empty tomb of Easter proves that on that dark Friday, Jesus won; that even today, Jesus is winning; and that one day, Jesus will win.

A few years ago, I was at a Christmas eve service when an elderly gentleman had a heart attack, right in the middle of us singing “Joy to the World.” It was kind of shocking (don’t worry, though; the ambulance came and he ended up being okay), but it was a reminder of this truth: that “peace on earth” isn’t here yet. I went home that night and wrote a poem about it. I called it, “Christmas is an Act of War.”

While singing songs one holy night
About the birth of love’s pure light,
I felt more deeply than before:
Christmas is an act of war

The baby in a manger came
As conqueror, to end sin’s reign
God invaded Satan’s shore;
Christmas is an act of war

Amidst our brokenness and pain,
Curse and fall and evil’s reign
He comes to spread His blessings far;
Christmas is an act of war

He appeared to take our sin
The curse undo and victory win
The devil’s work to full destroy
And vanquish grief with vaulted joy

So joyful and triumphant sing,
Battle hymns then let us ring
Insurrection anthems pour;
For Christmas is an act of war

Joy to all the world we sing,
Glory to the newborn King
Christ the Victor come adore
For Christmas is an act of war

The Christmas story—the whole Christmas story, with the soldiers and everything—is a reminder that even though the victory has been won, the war isn’t over yet. People still hurt, hearts still break, bad things still happen. But not always. Not forever. That baby in the manger came as conqueror, crushed Satan at the cross, and is coming back one day to finish the job. “Peace on earth” will win.

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