Tucked away in the sweetness of the Christmas message
is one horrible incident. Herod determines that he will not let the
newborn King of the Jews live, and therefore orders the slaughter of all male children
two and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
This was prophesied by Jeremiah:
Thus says the LORD, "A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more."
(Jer 31:15 NASB)
Many years later a great painter, Pieter Bruegel,
portrayed this horrible moment. If you examine his painting, you see the
horror of the act:
· You see the anguish of the parents; a father kneeling
before one of the officials, begging for his child’s life. It’s winter;
the father is lightly clad, and he’s on his knees in the snow.
· You see the nervousness of the soldiers, bunched
together at the edge of town, seeking moral strength and self justification in
their numbers and in their soldierly discipline. They don’t approve, but
they have their orders.
· You see the evil glee of the executioners, reveling in
the abject humiliation of the people, teasing them with the life and death of
their children. They have power now; some old scores may be settled, or
just the simple ego expansion that comes with the power to inflict misery and
One thing Bruegel does that may surprise you. He
sets the painting not in Palestine, but in his native Holland, in his own time.
It is a message that, though the actual event happened long ago, the human
drama and the failings it shows are still with us in any age.
But if those horrors are with us in any age, their
reply (and ultimate resolution) is likewise found in any age—in Christ:
· He is the one who sends the Comforter to comfort the
mournful. He knows what it is to die; He has done it Himself.
· He is the one who will guide and encourage the
wavering, putting backbone into the nervous soldier.
· He is the one who can forgive even those who
slaughtered the innocent.
When you eat this bread and drink this cup, you
proclaim the Lord’s death—and His power over it. Indeed, we do this until
He comes again. When he does, we will see the rest of the prophecy
Thus says the LORD, "Restrain your voice from
weeping And your eyes from tears; For your work will be rewarded,"
declares the LORD, "And they will return from the land of the enemy.
"There is hope for your future," declares the LORD, "And your
children will return to their own territory. (Jer 31:16-17 NASB)
God sees such horrors in a different way. He
knows that we are agonized by such things—but remember: the Innocents
will return at the resurrection, and God will wipe away each tear. Until
then, we remember His death while awaiting our eternal life.