First Sunday after Christmas
Not Intended to Comfort
What in the world is this story of Herod doing in the Bible and as a part of today’s service, as though there is some blessing in it?! Surely there are more uplifting stories about the life of Jesus.
We’ve just had a blessed Advent season with gifts and gatherings, carols and candles, and a multitude of other Christmas festivities. Why not find a way to let that season of joy linger a little longer?
But this story—a horrible, wicked incident—is a vital part of the larger story of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. It portrays the dire need of humanity for deliverance from its own designs of self-destruction. It provides a contrast between God’s design for humanity and humanity’s failure to live into that reality.
This story gives us the opportunity to mourn the cruelty of tyrants in the twenty-first century, to pray for their victims, and to recognize that their plight weighs heavily on God’s heart. As we live comfortable, safe lives, we need help in feeling God’s burden for the victims of violence. This story provides that help.
In order to benefit from this uncomfortable, nightmarish story, you may want to (maybe you don’t want to but feel called to) read it slowly and picture in your mind the faces of those who suffer from today’s acts of cruelty. Pray for their deliverance. Give for their relief. Serve that they may be comforted.
It may be that this Christmas story is not intended to comfort us or to fill us with joy. Maybe its purpose is more to prod us, to call us to impact our sinful world with the witness of our faith. After all, that’s what the one whose birth we just celebrated did.
Tim Byerly, retired pastor
Winston-Salem, North Carolina