16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 “A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.” 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, – Matthew 2:16-19 NASB
Why did God warn and save Jesus, and let these other babies die. Why did these mothers have such grief? Why was Joseph only warned by God in a dream? This is a great scandal indeed, it was even foretold in prophecy. Could God not have prevented it? These questions remain unanswered – that’s one reason they call it “faith”. Yet Jesus was saved from this so that He could suffer more to save us. The message of Christ is not to sweep suffering under the rug. The message of Christ is the cross, and the cross is a symbol of suffering and failure and rejection and grief. The story of Christmas may be good news of a great joy, but the world always fights back at such things. He is acquainted with grief. He knows these mothers’ suffering. He knows your suffering. Your savior is acquainted with your grief, and has tremendous compassion for you.
One of my favorite passages in all of literature is the scene in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, where a mother grieving the loss of her young child comes to the priest seeking comfort. His response is amazing:
“It is Rachel of old,” said the elder, “weeping for her children, and will not be comforted because they are not. Such is the lot set on earth for you mothers. Be not comforted. Consolation is not what you need. Weep and be not consoled, but weep. Only every time that you weep be sure to remember that your little son is one of the angels of God, that he looks down from there at you and sees you, and rejoices at your tears, and points at them to the Lord God; and a long while yet will you keep that great mother’s grief. But it will turn in the end into quiet joy, and your bitter tears will be only tears of tender sorrow that purifies the heart and delivers it from sin. And I shall pray for the peace of your child’s soul.”
The story of Christmas is a story of profound grief. We need not lose our faith in God on account of our suffering and grief, because Jesus has suffered profoundly with us. We can expect a profound comfort in our grief, and know that God understands in a most intimate way. In fact, scripture is clear that in more than any other way, we have fellowship with Him in our suffering (Philippians 3:10).
There is no need to pretend that the grief of these mothers is not an integral part of the Christmas story. All the more, we need to know that our suffering and even our sin does not nullify the power of God to bring forth the unfolding of the good news of great joy, that a savior has been born to us, Christ the Lord. We need this even more in our grief, and it is a true comfort.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Heb 4:14-16 NASB