Advent Devotion for December 28
Candle Lighter says: “A cry was heard in Ramah — weeping and great mourning.”
Response: “Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 2:1-23
1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”
21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
SOME THOUGHTS: The account you just read is one of the darkest moments in Scripture, the result of a sick, evil, and twisted soul. December 28th in some traditions is known as the Feast of the Holy Innocents, commemorating King Herod’s ordering the killing of all boys in Bethlehem two years old and under. It comes as no surprise that the devil would try to thwart God’s plan of bringing redemption and restoration to human beings and the whole created order. His first attempt in the Garden of Eden was successful with the fall of Eve and Adam. God’s Son was a different story. A bit of background on King Herod may be helpful. He was hated by the Jews as a traitor in that he sought favor with Rome by controlling the Jewish nation while remaining loyal to Rome. He was a complicated, insecure man. He was clearly paranoid, killing one of his wives, two of his sons, and two sons-in-law among others whom he saw as threats. It was said his brother escaped being “killed by dying on his own!” Herod learned that a king of the Jews was to be born in Bethlehem and he sought to solve the problem of a would-be challenger to his throne. He ordered the murder of the infant boys. What he had not realized was that he was dealing with God as a baby. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus evidently stayed in Bethlehem for a period of time after the birth. You read that one night, God visited Joseph in a dream, and told them to leave for Egypt. What has always impressed me was that Joseph did not wait around. They left that very night.
You know the rest of the story. (It is puzzling to me that we easily condemn Herod as a crazy evil man in ordering the killing of the babies, yet there are millions of abortions in our day and our culture doesn’t bat an eye. Our courts and individuals defend the right of one human to take the life of another waiting to be born.) Jesus was born into a stressful, uncertain world. Evil abounded. The devil tried again and again to abort God’s plan to bring life and healing to a fallen world whether it was at Jesus' temptation, Peter’s interference (“Get behind me Satan.”), Judas’ betrayal, or the Garden of Gethsemane. The great irony is that the devil tried to kill Jesus at His birth via King Herod. The devil’s wish came true, Jesus did die, not because He was killed, but because He chose to give His life as a ransom for many. And then for the devil, the worst possible thing happened, Jesus rose from the dead conquering death, sin, and evil for all eternity! Eternal life is offered to all, via the atoning death of the Son of God man. Glory to God!
MUSIC: Coventry Carol by Anuna (YouTube)
PRAYER: O God who art from eternity unto eternity, and art not at one time in one place because all times and places are in Thee, I would now seek to understand my destiny as a child of Thine. Here I stand, weak and mortal, amid the immensities of nature. But blessed be Thou, O Lord God, that Thou hast made me in Thine own likeness and hast breathed into me the breath of Thine own life. Within this poor body Thou hast set a spirit that is akin to Thine own Spirit. Within this corruptible Thou hast planted incorruption and within this mortal immortality. So from this little room and this short hour I can lift up my mind beyond all time and space to Thee, the uncreated One, until the light of Thy countenance illumines all my life. Almighty God, who didst raise from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ and didst set Him at Thy right hand in glory everlasting, I thank Thee for this hope of immortality with which through many ages Thou hast cheered and enlightened the souls of Thy saints, and which Thou didst most surely seal through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.65