When we think of Christmas, we may think of presents and trees and decorations and family and friends. If you are a church-goer, perhaps what may come to mind is a newborn babe and a stable and shepherd-worshippers and angels declaring the glory of God come to man. But there is another part of the Christmas story — a darker part, a harder part — that may speak to us this Christmas in the midst of the Newtown tragedy.
In Matthew’s gospel we learn about a horrific episode in the midst of the Nativity story that has traditionally been called the Massacre of the Innocents — the same term that many in the media have been ascribing to what happened in Newtown.
In this historic event 20 centuries ago, King Herod hears from the wise men that one who would be the King of the Jews has been born. Herod was an evil and deranged man who would brook no competition for his throne. When the wise men do not come back to him with the identity of this child, he becomes enraged, “and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16, 17).
Why is this stark story here, and what does it have to say to us this Christmas in the midst of tragedy? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but this is what I think: this story is here to remind us about what kind of world Jesus came to. We live in a beautiful world that is also a world of hurt and sorrow and brokenness and sin. The saints of old used to call this world the “vale of tears” — and that it is. Some of you know this already. If you don’t, you haven’t lived long enough, or you have isolated yourself from the pain of those around you.
And I’m a part of this broken world. My own sin hurts others and shows disdain for the One who made me. This world is often messed up, and so am I; the Bible calls it Fallen — fallen into sin and sorrow and death.
Into this world God sent His glorious, beloved Son. Why? Jesus did not come to make us nice. He did not come to make us happy about ourselves. He did not come so we would have success in all our endeavors. He did not come just to comfort us. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, came to this world to rescue and redeem us. We need a Rescuer. We desperately need a Rescuer. I need a Rescuer. The families of Newtown need a Rescuer.
Jesus was born into this world to take upon Himself the sin and sorrow and shame of all those who will look to Him. He came to break the power of sin and death by being broken Himself upon the cross. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Several years ago our church had the opportunity to pray for a young family as they watched their precious three-year old daughter slowly overtaken by a terrible illness. Sometime after her death, at age four, her mother wrote these words:
“The Lord showed me how those who have lost a child can begin to understand the pain [God] felt over having lost His children to the darkness of this broken world, the heartache of being separated from them, and the great need He had for a Rescuer to come and restore us into the family of our Father. Jesus met that need, and His victory over death assures that my need to see [my little girl] again will be met one day as well.”
In the midst of Christmas mourning, may we all find Christmas hope in our great Rescuer this year.
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.