Christmas can be a time of wide ranging emotions from excitement & happiness, to dread and sorrow. It is said that depression is a bigger problem during the Christmas season than any other time of year. Our emotions can get really messy with highs and lows, sometimes even in the same day.
While mixed and messy emotions may be part of our Christmas, especially this year, they were part of the original Christmas also. We become especially aware of this when we read Matthew chapter 2. The exceedingly great joy of the magi on the birth of one child stands in stark contrast with the great sorrow in Bethlehem on the death of many. These emotions are important for two reasons.
First, the emotions of the Christmas story speak to influence and relationships.
The contrasting emotions in the Christmas story are a result of contrasting leaders. There is joy over the birth of a new and better king. There is sorrow because of the rule of a bad king.
The sorrow in Bethlehem is a result of a very far-from-God kind of person in leadership. Herod the Great was really Herod the Horrible. He was great if you like buildings. The rebuilt temple was impressive among other building programs he was responsible for. He was horrible if you like people. He had one of his wives executed, plus several of his sons. He even arranged for many Jewish nobles to be executed when he died so that there would be weeping instead of rejoicing at his death. Thankfully, that was not carried out.
His son was not much better. In fact the Romans gave him the boot, which is why you have Herod ruling as king in Jerusalem at Christmas, but by the time of the events of Easter you have a Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, in charge instead. Indeed the ruthlessness of Herod’s son is the reason Joseph and Mary headed back to Nazareth on the return from Egypt. This was still a time of fear. People can create incredible fear and sorrow in people.
The joy of the magi was over the birth of a closer-to-God-than-the-magi-knew kind of person born to be the new leader. The magi would hardly have known the full calling of Jesus, but they had joy over the birth of a king, a king that had a right to the throne, unlike Herod. This new and true king would potentially rule, not just over the people, but for the people. The Old Testament prophecies speak to this hope:
For a child is born to us,Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!
The magi would likely not have expected the death and resurrection of Jesus and all that would mean, but they did expect a good king! They expected a leader far greater than Herod. They expected a king that would bring joy. People can bring incredible joy to people.
What kind of people are we? What emotions do we create in people through our influence in their lives? Do we bring about joy in people? Or do people breathe a sigh of relief when we no longer have influence in their lives, like at Herod’s death? Are we like Christ? Or are we like Herod? Just as the magi had joy when they saw the sign of the star, do people have joy when they see the sign of our street? They can’t wait to see us. Or, as with Herod, do they find another route so as to avoid us, so as to avoid the hurt created by us? Christmas can be a time of heightened emotions because of family dynamics. In our relationships are we peacemakers like Jesus, or joy killers like Herod?
Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ in our influence over others, and less like Herod. Let us pray for the Herod’s of our world, that they would be more like Christ.
Second, the emotions of the Christmas story speak to death.
The weeping in Bethlehem is directly related to death.
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:Matthew 2:16-18 (NLT)
“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”
It is estimated that between ten and thirty infants would have been killed that day. Even one would be too many. Can you imagine living in Bethlehem at that time? The whole community, likely a thousand people or so, would have been gripped with sorrow over such needless and untimely death.
Much fear and sorrow in people’s lives relates to death. We have all faced restrictions in our day because of the fear of death, and rightfully so. The potential of people dying from COVID-19 is a big problem for our leaders to navigate. Death is not actually our biggest problem, however. Death itself is a symptom of a bigger problem, a problem we can not deal with on our own. That problem is the problem of sin that separates us from God.
The magi would not have known that this infant Jesus would take on more than the injustice in the land as the new king, he would take on the greatest reason for fear and sorrow as Saviour. He would take on the reason for death itself, the problem of sin at the cross.
There is a verse in the Bible which speaks to our emotions regarding death:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NLT)
We do grieve when there is death and loss. But we grieve as people who have hope. There is an element of joy when the one who trusts in Christ thinks of death. Death is not the end of the book, but the turning of the page, concluding one chapter, and beginning the next. The story does not end. The best is yet to come.
What are our emotions when we think about death? Is it all fear and sorrow? Grief is real, and a certain amount of negative emotion is normal, even healthy and necessary. But as you think about your own death, does the thought fill you with dread, or is there an element of joy stirring in your soul?
Is there space for both sadness and joy in your Christmas this year? There may be much to grieve, it is natural to feel sorrow over loss and change. There is also great reason for incredible joy.