Not So Picture Perfect

Years ago my mom recalled opening a box of Christmas decorations with my grandmother and being puzzled as to the disorder in the box. Resources were few and it seemed the tinsel, ornaments and other items of decor had been hastily inserted, but why?  They struggled awhile.  Then it dawned on them.  The previous Christmas had been a time of sorrow.  My maternal greatgrandmother, had died close to Christmas, the joy had turned to sorrow and the perfect Christmas had become ‘not so picture perfect’ as the family entered a season of grief.

The birth narrative of Jesus Christ in the gospel of Matthew is hardly picture perfect. King Herod the half-Jew, half-Idumean, who as Craig Blomberg reminds us, “ascended to power as client-ruler of Israel in 37 B.C., was known as a great builder of public works and a shrewd diplomat. ….As he grew older, he became increasingly paranoid about threats against his person and throne. He had numerous sons, wives, and others close to him put to death because he feared plots to overthrow him. After frequent disputes with Caesar Augustus, the emperor uttered his famous pun that he would rather be Herod’s pig (hys) than his son (huios).

As the account unfolds, God protects His Son, but Herod, discovering he had been outwitted by the Magi, was furious, and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and under.  Matthew, guided by the Spirit of God, is directed to the penned words of Jeremiah “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.”

Sorrows at times ‘like sea billows roll…’ Individuals and families experience grief differently and the sudden death of young children is perhaps the most life-altering seasons for anyone.  Pastorally, I’ve journeyed with a few families through such darkness.  There are no easy answers. It is not a time to quote Romans 8:28 or some other simplistic solution to grieving hearts.

Jeremiah 31:15, in its original context, depicts the lament of mothers in Israel mourning as their sons are led into exile.  Now in Matthew 2 a new generation of women grief the horrendous act of an evil tyrant. 

This isn’t a very pleasant post to share, but a grim reminder that while some have a ‘picture perfect’ celebration this weekend, others are pouring out their hearts in grief, experiencing once again the painful separation that death brings.  

The good news in the midst of grief is that the babe born in Bethlehem becomes a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. He carries our sorrows and at the cross and empty tomb reminds us all that He is Lord, that the serpent with his sinister strategy (Genesis 3:15) has been defeated by the seed of the woman.  

I think it’s time to sing.  Why not ponder the words of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day?” And after pondering them, take time to pray for those families in your circle for whom these days are hours of weeping and great mourning. May God’s comfort be multiplied to them.

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