“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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More than a thousand years after Rachel’s death, Jacob’s descendants of the Southern Kingdom were snatched from their homeland and taken at spearpoint to faraway Babylon. Ramah, five miles north of Jerusalem, was a gathering place for the exiles. Rachel’s “children” are dead and dying. Jeremiah captures the scene — in the verses which Matthew quotes and throughout the Book of Lamentations. Now, Matthew tells us, a half millennium after Jeremiah, Bethlehem’s babies are slaughtered once more and Rachel’s cries again pierce the Judean night.
But Jeremiah’s weeping text is followed by a ray of light. “They shall return from the land of the enemy,” God told the prophet, “and there is hope for your future” (Jer. 31:16-17). The chapter continues with God’s prophecy of a new covenant, in which he will forgive his people’s iniquity and remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:31-34; see Heb. 8:6-13). By Jesus’ own spared life and atoning death, he personally became that covenant (Isaiah 42:6). He became the Second Adam, the life-giving spirit, whose representative obedience saves all who belong to him (Rom. 5:12-20; 1 Cor. 15:45).
The baby who was temporarily spared King Herod’s slaughter also had to die. But by his death, he gave life to the babies of Bethlehem, and to all of Adam’s descendants around the world who put their trust in him.