Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
So strange—at this point in the Christmas story, we’ve heard of angelic announcements and a virgin birth, events so miraculous they’re highlighted in the night sky, drawing wise men from distant lands. And then this horror happens.
As terrible as the slaughter of these innocent children is to contemplate, perhaps the account does help us process the horrors we have seen. It’s not unusual for people to ask, “How can God let such things happen?”
Well … evil remains in the world, doesn’t it? Satan and all beings who follow Satan’s lead see their impending destruction in Christ’s arrival. Their ongoing response is one of fury, an unleashing of the irrational anger at the core of their being.
Like Herod, any self-centered human can experience how frustration leads to anger, and anger can turn violent. There’s also a general brokenness to the world, the result of uncountable generations of sinful decision-making going back to the original break between humanity and God.
So even at the time of the birth of Christ, horrors persisted. And horrors will persist, for a time.
God has provided the solution, though. Somehow, the solution even will be mysteriously retroactive, wiping away every tear, to quote Revelation 21:4. We also can look to the concluding verses in Jeremiah 31:15-17, to which Matthew alluded after telling the tale of the Bethlehem children:
“There is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.”
The work of Christ does not yet relieve us of the horrors we have witnessed or experienced, but it will. That great truth, mysterious as it is, should give us hope in all circumstances.
Lord, as we confront the dark realities of our world, give us a deeper understanding of how very temporary you will prove them to be. Amen.