A little girl came home from Sunday School waving a paper for her mother to see. “Look Mommy,” she exclaimed, “Teacher says I drew the most unusual Christmas picture she ever saw!”
Her mother took one look and had to agree with the teacher. Hoping her daughter could explain her creation, the mother asked, “Why are all these people riding in the back of an airplane?”
“Well, Mommy, that’s the flight into Egypt.”
Accepting that, mother asked another question: “Who is this mean-looking man in the front?”
Her daughter answered quickly and knowingly: “That’s Pontius, the Pilot.”
Looking at the picture even more closely, the mother said, “I see you have Mary and Joseph and the baby. But who is this large man sitting behind Mary?”
“Can’t you tell?” the little girl asked, beginning to shake her head in disappointment. “That’s Round John Virgin.”
What sort of pictures do you have of Christmas? Is it anything like this one?
This year, for the first time in Florida, my bride and I have pulled out the tree and decorations and as many of the trimmings as we could bring with us. Our home reflects the Christmas spirit, not because of anything I have done, but my bride has created a wonderful atmosphere here for this holiday season.
Some of the best Christmas tree ornaments we saved and are now on the tree are the ornaments which our children made, and which have their pictures, or the pictures of their kids on them. Whenever I think about the pictures of Christmas, those ornaments jog my memory, and a smile comes to my face.
As we think about Christmas, various adjectives come to mind. Words like “merry”, and “joyful”, and “celebration” and even “peace.” We think about singing Christmas carols and enjoying the various foods and aromas of this time of the year.
All of this is in anticipation and celebration of the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If you are like us, your Christmas celebration often includes a birthday party for Jesus, a wonderfully joyful experience.
But for some, Christmas is not that way. It was not that way even on that first Christmas Day.
In fact, it was just the opposite of happy and joyful and merry for many of the families in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. It was a time of weeping and tears.
In Matthew 2:18, toward the end of Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, we read, “A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
Why were people crying then? This verse tells us that, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah, the people were mourning because their children were dead.
You see, when the wise men from the east came to see the baby whom they described as one who was “born the King of the Jews”, they approached King Herod in Jerusalem, quite naturally expecting to find the new-born king there in the palace. This was the first time Herod had heard about a king who was “born.”
Herod, being a king who had bought and fought his way into that position, did not relish the idea of being deposed by one who was born into that position.
So he fought back. He put forth a decree that was cruel at its very best. He had all the male children two years old and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding vicinity murdered. He did not want to risk losing his kingdom to a youngster who was “born” as king.
As Matthew was telling this story, he borrowed a quote from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, specifically Jeremiah 31:15, where he pointed to Rachel, the (second) bride of Jacob. Jeremiah refers to Rachel as mourning because her descendants in Jeremiah’s time were no longer enjoying life in the Land of Promise. Rather they were in captivity experiencing exile.
But this verse in Jeremiah 31, a verse of sadness and tears and weeping, is right in the middle of a passage describing what the Israelites will experience, in the future: “I [the LORD] will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).
Those families in Bethlehem wept and mourned as they remembered the death of their boys, but the Lord was showing them he had something better for them in the future. As a result of the birth of Jesus, sorrow would be turned to joy, weeping to laughter, and bowed heads to dancing. Christ’s coming would make possible resurrection and reconciliation.
What pictures of Christmas do you have in your hearts? They may not be the cartoonish depiction of a jet flight into Egypt, but they nonetheless are very personal.
Sometimes at the Christmas season we have pain in our hearts because of the circumstances of living in this fallen world with its cruelty. Sometimes it is hard to rejoice and be glad even at Christmas! But this Christmas may I encourage you, in faith, to praise God for both the coming of Christ in the past and His coming in the future, which will comfort and give us a peace that will last for eternity?
Jesus himself said it best, when he said, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid…I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 14:27; 16:33)
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette and the News Journal. He is also a former Pastor of Port William UMC.