Today I wish to direct your attention to a piece by Mandy Rogers-Gates at the her.meneutics blog entitled “Let Christmas Be Complicated“.
As evangelicals, we crave a simple faith which breaks out neatly into categories of black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. Something we can shove in the faces of all those godless postmodern liberals running around out there, clamoring about how it’s all relative and there’s no black and white only shades of gray. Reality check: There is good and there is evil but the boundary between the two is not nearly as straightforward as we would like it to be.
Consider how this plays out in the story of Christmas. In the gospel of Matthew, almost immediately after the birth of Jesus we get the story of the flight to Egypt. Joseph and Mary were warned in a dream that Herod was on the hunt for Jesus. Why? Because Herod had gotten wind that this baby Jesus would grow up to be king of the Jews. But the Jews already had a king. This did not sit well with him, so he wanted Jesus dead. So Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with Jesus, and laid low there until the situation cooled off.
But what about all the other babies in Bethlehem? You see, Herod did not take too well to the news that Jesus was nowhere to be found. He wanted to make sure Jesus was good and gone, so he had all the babies killed who could possibly be the same age as Jesus, and who therefore could potentially be Jesus.
There were lots of sad mothers that day. Matthew tells us twice that all this happened so that Old Testament prophecy might be fulfilled: First, the flight to Egypt, which fulfilled Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I called my son”). Then there are the words of Jeremiah:
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.
Imagine if you were one of those Jewish mothers in Bethlehem. Your son had made it through that critical first year of life, which was by no means assured–life was hard in first century Israel–only to be killed brutally by Roman soldiers because the king up at Jerusalem had decided he posed a threat. Now imagine someone telling you that your suffering and loss fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy concerning the coming of the Anointed One and was part and parcel of God’s plan. It would ring a bit hollow to you, I bet.
Now, does the fact that this happened mean that it had to happen? Did it have to happen this way, or could God have fulfilled these prophecies another way? Put it another way: Did God need for those babies to die–did God want those babies to die–in order for Jesus to come into the world?
There are no easy answers to these questions. Yet too often we come to Scripture expecting easy answers. We want everything simple, all wrapped up with a nice little bow on it. Yet Scripture doesn’t always play by those rules. Scripture doesn’t give us the easy answers we crave. Instead it gives us questions and leaves us to wrestle with those questions.