• Adam Smith

The Drama of Christmas

Christmas as a declaration of war against sin and death.


This is the third devotional in Ministry to State's Advent series: The Politics of Christmas. You can read the previous devotional here.

 

Jesus’ birth was immediately followed by a great deal of drama and political intrigue. After his lowly birth in a manger and the visitation of the shepherds and wise men, we read in Matthew 2:13-18 that Joseph and Mary were forced to flee to Egypt in order to keep Jesus safe from Herod, who was plotting to kill every male infant in Bethlehem in order to ensure that Jesus would not pose a threat to his throne.

Matthew’s account tells us that the Lord revealed Herod’s intentions to Joseph in a dream and that Joseph immediately fled with Mary and Jesus in the middle of the night in order to keep Jesus safe. As a whole, the passage is a mixture of drama and tragedy. Sadly, there were people who wanted to kill the Son of God even from the very beginning of his life on earth.

Matthew writes that these events took place in order to fulfill the words spoken by two different prophets, both of which are hard to understand at first because they do not seem to fit the description of what we normally call a prophecy. To understand what Matthew is telling us, we have to understand that he uses the word “fulfillment” differently than we might think. When Matthew uses the word, he is not only communicating that Jesus is the answer to past prophetic predictions, but also that Jesus is the hidden meaning behind every part of Scripture. [1]

By telling us that Jesus is the “son” mentioned in Hosea 11:1, Matthew is saying that Jesus is the True Israel, the one who would himself come out of Egypt and do what Israel should have done but failed to do after their own deliverance. He would be the one to live in perfect obedience to God and thus fulfill the calling of God’s people. Through his own “exodus,” he would become the deliverer of his people (Lk. 9:30-31).

How Matthew connects Herod’s acts of infanticide to the words spoken in Jeremiah 31:15 are also quite revealing because here Matthew is telling us that Jesus is God’s answer to the cries of his people who have suffered in long awaited exile. He is telling us that Jesus truly is the Messiah who has come to bring comfort to God’s people and to bring them “back from the land of the enemy” (Jer. 31:16). In other words, he is saying that King David’s heir has finally arrived, that the exile is nearly over, and that God’s Son would soon inaugurate the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31.

This often overlooked part of the Christmas story is crucial for understanding what Christmas really means because it forces us to interact with the reality of evil and to recognize the direct threat that Jesus’ life was—and is—to all those who hold power in this world. If we look closely, we see that the arrival of the Son of God was actually a declaration of war against the forces of darkness as the long-awaited Redeemer-King had finally come to reckon with evil once and for all.

It should not surprise us then that his birth was immediately met by an intent to kill him. After all, his birth was a direct confrontation to the powers of this world. Herod knew it, as did Satan, and so both opposed Jesus early on in his life and ministry (See also Matt. 4:1-11). The birth of the Messiah did not just bring peace and joy, it also immediately brought disruption and violence, as those who had power rightly perceived the Newborn King as an opposing threat to their rule.

Often we tend to think of Christmas only in pleasant and sentimental terms, emphasizing Jesus’ birth amongst farm animals, the bond between Mary and her child, and the promise of peace on earth. And while it is true that Christmas offers the promise of “peace on earth,” it is also true that peace requires confronting evil. The arrival of the Son of God promised to do just that. As Simeon had prophesied after Jesus’ birth:“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.” (Lk. 2:34).

Christmas is not just a sweet, sentimental story. Rather, it is the dramatic account of how God has turned the tide against the forces of evil in the cosmic battle of the ages. Christmas means that the True King has come, that battle lines have been drawn, and that the Son of God may either be followed or opposed as he begins his righteous reign. Just as Herod opposed him while the wise men honored him, we have the same choice before us.

But Christmas also means that God has not stayed silent at the sight of suffering and evil in this world. It means that “on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Lk. 1:79). Indeed, God has not sent us just any ruler, but one who will reign righteously and rule justly (Isa. 32:1). He has sent us a King able to deliver us from the oppression of evil (Col. 2:15). This is the promise offered to us through the dramatic events of Christmas.



Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington D.C.



[1] Pastor Kevin DeYoung demonstrates well the ways Matthew interacts with Old Testament passages. See Kevin DeYoung, “Out of Egypt I Called My Son,” The Gospel Coalition, December 9, 2010, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/3133/.