December 23, 2022
Grief in the Christmas Story
(Trigger Warning: Death, Genocide/Infancide, Suicide)
The wise men (sometimes translated as Magi or Kings) come from ‘the East’ (likely Persia) to find Jesus because they saw a change in the stars. But the wise men don’t seem to know where to find Jesus. They know He is the King of the Jews and the star is in the direction of the Jewish capital, Jerusalem, so that's where they go. In Jerusalem they meet Herod and both parties exchange information so now everyone knows both when and where Jesus (king of the Jews) was born.
What do they do with this information? We’ll talk about the wise men’s response tomorrow. Today let’s look at Herod’s response in verses 16-18.
Herod saw Jesus as a threat to his throne so he first tried to kill Jesus specifically. When this was no longer possible (because the wise men didn’t return), he took more drastic measures. Since he knows Jesus is a child under 2 who was in Bethlehem, he sends guards to kill every child aged 2 and under in Bethlehem and surrounding area. These deaths are the collateral damage of a tyrant. In trying to think of a comparison for today, I thought of political structures thereby making Herod’s mistake. The true tyrant is the devil who works through principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12). The things he steals (our joy, our future, sometimes even our loved ones) are collateral damage aimed at killing the Jesus in us, His people. But God gives us hope. This comes as hope for a future reward ("Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on [Jesus’s] account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven", Matthew 5:11-12) and as comfort for our present grief.
How we deal with our grief is important to God. In this passage we see a beautifully accurate depiction of grief: "wailing and loud lamentation… she refused to be consoled" (Matt 2:18, Jer 31:15). You can imagine how much the families of these children, Mary & Joseph when they found out what they left behind, and the wise men, priests, and scribes who had given Herod the information that led to the massacre (and who didn’t know Jesus escaped) all grieved these children.
When we are grieving or in pain, our natural tendency is to pull away or hide. In those times, I myself don’t really want to talk to God but He graciously seeks me out to start the conversation. Isaiah 43:26 says, "Come, let us argue together" and Psalm 139:8 says “If I make my bed in the house of death, you are there”. He is always with us. So where is He in our struggles and grief?
I asked Him this a couple years ago about an event in my life that happened a year before that. I was on a medication that, as a side effect, made me suicidal. The first night of experiencing this I couldn't sleep and eventually got up to either go downstairs and die or go down the hall to where a family member was and keep myself safe. Obviously I did not die that night. When I asked God where He was during all this, He showed me Himself, standing at the top of the stairs blocking my path. He was there.
In reflecting on Matthew 2, I asked God where He was during the massacre. He showed me Jesus receiving the children in heaven. Touching their scars and showing them His own.
Please take a few minutes to do the guided reflection below. I bless you to receive God's comfort and a deeper understanding of His love and grace as you work through your grieves with Him.
Begin with 3 minutes of silent prayer becoming aware of God’s presence and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Think of something or someone that you are grieving. If nothing comes to mind, ask the Holy Spirit to highlight something for you. Ask God to reveal Himself in that situation (where was He?) and write down what He says.
As a note, grief does need to be expressed. Things that you bury only grow and grief is really ugly as a fully fledged plant (trust me). Everyone has their own process for working through grief but I’ve listed a few processing methods below as a starting point.
Talk to other people, share stories about the person/thing you’re grieving. Humans are social and we tend to deal with things best in community.
Go for walks or drives (some kind of movement or small mindless task).
If you’re missing a person, you can do things that remind you of the person. For example, play their favourite carol, bake their favourite cookie, watch their favourite movie, do something you used to do together, etc.
Light a candle or hang an ornament in memory. This is a more traditional approach but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Our traditions can help us honour our past.
If it’s a tradition that you’re grieving (e.g., you used to do something with family and now you can’t) consider converting the old tradition into something new.
Written By Liz Guest