“It is hard to celebrate Christ’s birth with joy when I read about Herod killing all the boy babies of Bethlehem. Can we find any beam of light shining through this horrible and senseless event?”
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We could wish that Matthew’s Christmas story stopped with the Magi and the wondrous star, but it doesn’t. The Magi had asked Herod’s help in locating the newborn king, and the tyrannical despot had asked them to return with the baby’s exact address. Instructed by a heavenly dream, they returned home instead (Matt. 2:1-12). When he realized that the Magi had come and gone, Herod ordered that all two-year-old boys and younger in the environs of Bethlehem be massacred (Matt. 2:16). God warned Joseph in a dream, and he escorted Mary and Jesus to Egypt, then back again after old Herod had died (Matt. 2:13-15, 19-23).
“Slaughter of the Innocents,” this story is traditionally called, and a tragic event it was, but a better title would be “Symbol of Universal Guilt.” For, as an old couplet puts it, “in Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” Adam represented us every one, you see, babies included, and by his transgression the death sentence fell on all of Adam’s descendants (Rom. 5:12-20). If Jesus had never been born, the entire human race without exception would surely have died in sin and condemnation. (However, because of Jesus, no one will be condemned merely because of Adam’s sin.)
The sound of Bethlehem’s crying mothers, says Matthew, fulfilled Jeremiah’s ancient words: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more” (Matthew 2:17-18). Rachel was the patriarch Jacob’s (“Israel”) favorite wife, and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Her name had always been associated with babies and with tears. Rachel herself died in childbirth, and she was buried near Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16-20). Through the centuries to come, tragedy will visit this location yet time and again.