Christmas: Despair or Joy?

Christmas time can bring out very different reactions from different people. Christmas, for many, is a time of joy and giving. For others, it’s a celebratory occasion with parties and spending time with loved ones. But Christmas can also be a time of sadness and loneliness, depression and despair. 

A survey asked people if they were looking forward to Christmas. While most said, “Yes,” far too many said, “No.” Christmas, for many, is a sad time of the year.

The first Christmas was not a happy time for King Herod, either. In the Book of Matthew we read, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16).

Herod presents a very negative, dark side to the Christmas story. He sees the birth of Jesus as a threat to his kingship. So, he orders the killing of all infant boys in Bethlehem. In horror, sadness and dismay, we wonder how anyone – any sane person – could have reacted that way to an innocent baby’s birth.

Herod was a king with power, prestige and wealth. According to the standards of the world, he was an immensely successful king. He ruled 51 years (47 BC – 4 BC). He built palaces and fortifications. He built the Temple – twice as big! When the country was in famine, he melted down his own gold to buy food for his people.

But, Herod had a very serious problem. He was extremely insecure and almost insanely suspicious. He had one of his wives, two of his sons and a son-in-law killed. At the time of Herod’s rule, the emperor Caesar Augustus said, “It’s safer to be Herod’s pig than be Herod’s son.”

So, when Herod heard that a king had been born, even though that new king was a helpless baby, he felt threatened. We may wonder, “How could anyone do what Herod did? How could any sane person issue an order to kill innocent babies?” The only answer is that Herod’s heart was so hardened by his sin and so wrapped up in himself that he did not care about others, even newborn babies. Sin does that. Sin hardens one’s heart and mind. 

Massacre of the Innocents, Leon Cogniet, 1824, Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes (Public Domain)

Herod may have started out with little acts of dishonesty and soon it was easy for him to issue the decree, “Kill the innocent babies.” He had no guilt, no tears of remorse, no repentance because sin had hardened his heart and mind. 

Yes, Christmas is a time of memories for most of us. But, let’s be honest with ourselves. Over the years, our lives have become less and less sensitive to God and the needs of others, even newborn babies. 

When Christmas arrives, we may not even be sure what it means to us anymore. But, Christmas comes as a light in a dark world and helps us see how unloving we can be, how insensitive we can be to the needs of others, how much more generous we can be to others.

Not only does Christmas show us how we can be, but most importantly it shows us how we are meant to be; we are meant to be for each other. One theologian said this about Jesus, “Man, for other men.”

God is compassionate and forgiving. He does not want to punish anyone. He is anxious, so anxious to show us how much He loves us and is willing to forgive us. He is so anxious to soften our hearts and make us sensitive to Him and to the needs of others, the vulnerable, the poor and the needy.

Christian author Ann Weems tells this story: “The golden vase, the priceless vase was a family treasure. It had belonged to my great-grandmother and my grandmother and now to my mother. The vase sat on the mantle, out of reach of little fingers. However, I managed to reach it. I climbed to reach it and I broke it. I broke the family treasure. Then, I began to cry in loud sobs that brought my mother running. I could hardly get it out. ‘I broke the vase,’ I said. ‘I broke the treasure.’ A look of relief came over my mother’s face and she said, ‘Oh, darling, I thought that you had been hurt.’ She hugged me and made it very clear that I was her priceless treasure.” 

The message of Christmas is this: God is a loving and forgiving God. He stands ready to welcome us because we are His treasures, who are meant to reach out to others with our love and care.

Two-thousand years have come and gone. Herod is gone and so are his evil acts. But, the love of God still stands and the Baby born in Bethlehem still reminds us that the only way to live our life is to live a life of lovelove of God and love of one another. 

Today, the hand of Jesus reaches out of the manger and says, “Come to me and I will teach you the way of love, as I lead you to my Father, who is so very anxious to show you the way of life lived for Him and others, if you will only follow me.” Would we? I wish and pray that we would!

Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian
Reverend Dr. Avedis Boynerian has been the Senior Minister of the Armenian Memorial (Congregational) Church since October 2003. He had previously served as the Minister to the Armenian Evangelical Martyrs’ Church of Aleppo, Syria. He graduated from the Andover Newton Theological School in 2011 with a Doctor of Ministry.
Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian

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