Woes of Bethlehem

Down the uneven dirt road the screech of a donkey and the moan of a young woman echoed through the night to the sleeping town of Bethlehem. Joseph steadied the animal as Mary readjusted herself on its back, perspiration beaded on her brow even in the cool night air; He was about to arrive. Of course, Bethlehem did not greet Him with much hospitality, but who would think that the Savior of the world would be birthed from such an ordinary young girl in a miniscule little town.

Yet the King did arrive in a stable among the sheep and goats. The angels rejoiced, the star shone bright, and the Shepherds paid tribute to their future Savior. It was a beautiful scene, humble as it was. It is that scene that we celebrate every December 25th, the night hope was born into a world of darkness.

What we don’t often remember is what happens afterwards. Mary and Joseph had stayed in Bethlehem for a time after Christ was born. All the while, Magi from the east sought out the newly birthed “King of the Jews” for they had seen Jesus’s star in the east. The Magi arrived in Jerusalem to be greeted by Herod the Great. They shared their reason for the long journey with Herod who encouraged them to go find the child and then tell him where he was so Herod could also “worship” him.  Herod’s plans for the Christ child were anything but harmless. The paranoid king intended to kill Jesus in fear that the child would be a threat to the throne. When the Magi did not return, Herod’s anger mixed with an unnatural amount of fear and paranoia lead him to go to extreme measures. The horrific event is briefly accounted in Matthew Chapter 2: 16-18.

“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, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,

weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.”

This is virtually the only place where this event is recorded in history. The apostle, Matthew, deemed it worthy to be noted in the gospel he wrote, but other historians of those times neglected it. The woes of Bethlehem on that horrific night failed to make the headlines of the time. There is no doubt that, as the innocent blood soaked the ground, deep throated cries of anguish filled the air for the precious babes slain in the very dawn of their lives. Yet, to Herod who had the conscience to kill his own sons and his most beloved wife, this bloodshed was simply necessary. To others making note of events, this one was minor for Herod had viciously murdered many more people in cold blood than a handful a baby boys.

The world lived in dark times, but hope had escaped by the mighty hand of God. Joseph had been warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The clutches of the enemy however desperate could not snatch the Hope of the world away. God saw to it that Christ would save the world, and that He did.

It is this Hope that we live for, that we celebrate this Christmas. Sometimes our troubles threaten to drown us in our economically struggling world where any evil seems to be lurking just around the corner. While the woes of our life may continually surround us, remember that Hope has already escaped evil’s grasp. We can cling to that Hope no matter what circumstances come. It is He who gives us peace and the strength to keep going, so spread that Hope this Christmas with your family and friends because Jesus is the light of all men. Merry Christmas!





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