Grief is a perfectly legitimate and relevant Christmastime emotion. In fact, a rudimentary glance at Matthew’s second chapter shows that grief is a more contextually appropriate mindset than is the unbridled giddiness culture expects of us. Amidst the merriment, we forget that several people died in Matthew 2.
Take a brief inventory in your mind of the ever so familiar elements of the Christmas story. Have you ever noticed the rampant grief that permeated the historical context of Christ’s birth? We have heard of the wise men and their gifts, but do we grasp the grim foreboding in their morbid frankincense and myrrh? We have long reveled in the part where an angel’s prophecy foils Herod’s plan to kill the Christ child, but have we ever given proper respect to the cries of the other parents in Bethlehem whose little boys were later massacred? Grieving is elemental to understanding Christmas. This happiest time of the year is deeply rooted in a story fraught with meaningful pain.
The angel’s warning to Joseph led to the fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then, the inconsolable wailing of the bereaved parents in and around Bethlehem led to the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15, “A voice was heard in Ramah, a lament with bitter weeping—Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children because they are no more.” One prophetic fulfillment was a deliverance story; the other prophetic fulfillment was a story of all-eclipsing anguish. Remember: both prophecies were equally inspired by God. Both are critical elements in the Christmas story whose ultimate purpose is salvation through belief in Jesus’ resurrection.
Some people read Matthew 2 and see their reflections in the shepherds who rejoiced. These shepherds were on the more privileged side of prophecy and suffered no pain through these events as described in the Gospels. I’m happy for them. Other people, however, relate more to the mourners of Bethlehem. My family has come to relate to mourners more these past few years as my brother and I have both buried small children. Both the blessed shepherds and the bereaved mourners are beloved by God. Both are subjected to Satan’s onslaught in some way, both are living out what the Old Testament prophets foretold, and both are caught up as complementary sides in a story leading to eternal salvation through Jesus. Drink deep from whichever cup God has given you.
I encourage you, then, to not “check out” this Christmas just because tradition tells us to be jolly and you don’t have it in you right now to put on a happy face. Don’t think of this whole season as a waste. Your grief may actually be the key. This could very well be the first time you truly get the Christmas story. Jesus’ birth was a colossal explosion of light in the midst of an oppressively dark time. Let your grief in and read Matthew 2 as you do. Precisely because of your grief, you can understand with better perspective just how much we needed Christ to be born. You will not likely take the hope of Christmas for granted because you are better acquainted than most with what Jesus conquered through His resurrection.
Grieve, friend. Then there, at the muddy bottom of your grief, look heavenward to the gospel and know its full height better than those who do not currently grieve. The grave is overwhelming to us, but Jesus overwhelmed the grave! The gospel is the ultimate and only source of true healing, both for the lifelong Christian and for the one coming to believe it this very moment. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, Christians have victory over death:
“When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (CSB)
This Christmas, grit your teeth and fix your eyes stubbornly to heaven’s coming horizon. While Bethlehem’s bereaved parents cried out in Matthew 2, God was at work bringing an eternal glory that would far outweigh their suffering. Satan was lashing out through Herod, but none of the death he wrought could stop the life that Jesus brought. Now, grieve your loss and grasp the gospel. ‘Tis the season.
Knowing that many among the crowds who will pile into our churches this Christmas are dealing with grief, be sure that your Bible study group is prepared to reach out to those who are hurting and alone. The team at Explore the Bible have provided this digital follow-up tool box to help you minister to them beyond what would otherwise be a singular visit. Like this article, Explore the Bible studies and applies Scripture using context. Sign up below and receive four free sessions: