My grandma died this last Wednesday, two days before Christmas. She was 99 years old. Suffice it to say, Christmas didn’t turn out the way my family planned this year.
Did yours? Did you get to see your whole family? Did you get what you wanted for Christmas? Did your family Christmas look like a Currier and Ives painting?
Sometimes God gives us picture perfect Christmases.
Sometimes, though, Christmas is covered in sadness. Maybe you slaved to get your house ready and then your son called and said he wasn’t coming. Or maybe one of your relatives said something stupid or hurtful and your family Christmas was filled with awkward tension. Or maybe, like me, you lost somebody you love.
We want so badly to have joy-filled Christmases. We want to be with our families. We want everything to be picture perfect, but then sometimes – oftentimes – Christmas is covered in sadness.
The first Christmas was no exception. We all know about Bethlehem and the manger. We know about the shepherds and angels. We know about the visit of the Wise Men, but so often we stop the story there. We fail to finish the Christmas story.
When the Wise Men didn’t report back to him, King Herod became furious. Obsessed with protecting his throne, he ordered the murder of all the baby boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity.
When I was a boy, I would often imagine legions of Roman soldiers going home to home, slaughtering hundreds of children. The truth, however, is that Bethlehem at the time was just a tiny village. Experts estimate that there would have probably been no more than a couple dozen little boys under the age of two living in Bethlehem at the time.
But still, imagine the horror of the parents. Imagine the mothers screaming in terror as the soldiers drove swords into their baby boys. Imagine the fathers futilely trying to protect their sons – parents weeping for their children and refusing to be comforted because they were no more.
The joy of the first Christmas was tainted by tragedy.
Yet how often doesn’t that happen even today? Think of all the victims of violence from this last year: the shootings in South Carolina and Oregon and California, the bombings in Paris, the massacres in Syria. What must Christmas have been like for their families this year?
So, then, how do we respond when tragedy taints Christmas? What do we tell those who are hurting?
We remind them of what Christmas is all about.
Christmas isn’t about family. The primary purpose of Christmas isn’t to spend time with people we love. Christmas is about God controlling all of history to bring his Son, our Savior, into the world.
Remember, Herod tried to kill him, but failed. God thwarted Herod’s plans to kill baby Jesus, but then later allowed Pontius Pilate to crucify him. Why? Because that was his plan from the very beginning – his plan to save you and me – his plan to get us to heaven.
God has plans for you and those plans end up with you in heaven. Though we won’t always understand how, God often uses the tragedies and sorrows of this sinful world to bring about his good and loving plans for us.
Though my grandma’s death hurts, it is no tragedy. She believed in Jesus. She is in heaven. I will see her again – all because of that baby born in Bethlehem.
Now that I think about it, maybe the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem is the most fitting way to end the Christmas story – because it is the most real for us who live in this sin stained world. Our celebrations of Christmas, our lives, aren’t picture perfect. They are often tainted by tragedy and sorrow.
But because of that baby born in Bethlehem, we know that God has plans for us, good plans, plans which end up with us in heaven. And that’s why we can celebrate, that’s why we can smile, that’s why we can have peace, even when Christmas is covered in sadness.