Christmas Tension

A few weeks ago I preached on the theme of peace as a part of our advent series.  The text I used was the story of the Magi and Herod from Matthew 2.  Rather than stop at verse 12 though, I preached from the text that extends down to verse 18.  This is a part of the Christmas story we don’t like to reflect on as Herod, in an attempt to kill off the new born King of the Jews (which was Herod’s self appointed title), slaughters all the boys around Bethlehem who were two years old and under.  Jesus escapes this slaughter as God warns Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the babe to Egypt.

My whole life I’ve been taught that Jesus died so we have life, but I was never taught that innocent children were killed but God spared Jesus.   I hope you find this unsettling… if not disturbing.  This is a scandelous story – but one that shows the tension of the world into which Jesus was born.  We have neutered the Christmas story of the tension that is present.   The tension comes from God entering into a broken world to bring radical change and transformation.  A world that was immediately threatened by God’s direct intrusion through the birth of Christ responded as the world does.  Militant force is used to usurp the threat of a child less than two years old.  When was the last time you felt threatened by a two year old?  This was not just a sweet

The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem by Matteo di Giovanni
The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem by Matteo di Giovanni

 child who would change us spiritually.  This was a child who was born to change the status quo.  North American Christianity is in many ways complicit with the culture around us.  The culture of this world is so intertwined with our faith we forget the tension that should be there.  The reality is coming of Christ came at the cost of the lives of innocent children – Jesus’ life was threatened not just when he was preaching and teaching but when he was an infant.  His life was so threatened, and thus God’s kingdom, that God had to intercede to ensure Jesus would live to fulfill his purpose on earth.

If you have a moment read Revelations 12 – to me this is a part of the Christmas story.  The threat of the Christ child was not just to Herod, to the religious leaders, or those with power – the threat was to all that stood against who God was.  Christians talk about spritual warfare – Revelations 12 depicts the birth of Jesus as just that – spiritual warfare.    The Christmas story is about the tension of God breaking into the world.  It is in that tension that we journey through advent celebrating hope, peace, joy, and love.   Those themes reflect the tension of what God is bringing into our broken world.  God’s hope is not the same hope our culture would value.

  God’s peace is not based on military might or lack of conflict, but transformed lives.  God’s joy and love reflect a depth of God’s character that we can participate in, not a shallow passing feeling leaving us empty until the next time.

As you celebrate the birth of Christ you celebrate God entering into the world to transform it.  We celebrate because we can participate in it – so that begs the question – This Christmas – what is the tension God is addressing in your life?   Where is God wishing to usurp the world around you with the ways of God’s Kingdom?  As a part of the Lord’s prayer we pray  may your kingdom come, may your will be done… Christmas is a time when we recognize the coming of God’s Kingdom and we are faced with the choice of living as a part of God’s Kingdom or the Kingdom of the world.  The comment many people make is to put Christ back into Christmas – I suspect Christ cares less about our holiday gift giving season, and more about Christ being central in how we live out our lives each and every day.  May the tension of following Christ in a world that is counter-faith be the greatest gift God has given you this Christmas season.