With the racially charged events and deaths happening in St. Louis, Cleveland, Florida, and now New York in recent months, we are left to wonder what’s so merry about Christmas. There are friends, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters grieving the death of a loved one, and systemic injustice and racism that personally and corporately send the message “Your life is not valued.” Events like these force us, as we are directly and indirectly affected by brokenness, to take a long look at ourselves—at our sins of omission and commission—and ask the question, “Do we love our neighbor as ourselves?”
We can easily distract ourselves from the pain, enjoying Christmas cookies and eggnog, escaping into lighthearted movies like White Christmas (no pun intended) or Elf. We can fill our schedules with parties and gift-buying. But no matter what we do, the groans of injustice and enmity remain. I feel angry, confused, and hopeless wondering how I can sing “Joy to the World” when there is so much sorrow in the world.
It seems dissonant right now to participate in merry making when there is so much pain and death around us. But it was into this world that Jesus was born—into the filth of a stable (literally) and into a nation experiencing violence and death. Gentle songs like “Away in a Manger” lead us to believe that Jesus’ birth was peaceful and idyllic. However, even a quick glance at Matthew 2 paints a different picture. Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod, a harsh and violent king. Herod’s fear of being dethroned by a newborn who would become the King of the Jews drove him to send soldiers to Bethlehem with an order “to kill every baby boy two years old and under, both in the town and on the nearby farms” (Matthew 2:16).
Though an angel prompted them to flee to Egypt, Mary and Joseph likely lived in the terror of knowing the king was trying to kill their son. They must have known the families of the sons who were murdered by Herod’s soldiers—perhaps they had eaten meals with these families, gone to synagogue together, and delighted together in watching their babies grow. In the midst of their fear, Mary and Joseph must also have grieved the fact that though their son was alive, the sons of many others were dead. Did they recall the horror of these deaths when they came back to Israel after Herod had died?
The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that Christmas isn’t simply about being merry. It’s a miraculous, joyful story, of course, that should be celebrated. But it doesn’t in any way negate the brokenness of this world—the grief of mothers and fathers, the injustice of wrongful deaths, whether children in Pakistan or police officers in New York.
This Christmas as we grieve individually and collectively about the horrific deaths of young Black men in this country, the sins of racism, and the brokenness of injustice, it’s appropriate to weep and mourn. You and I don’t need to put on a happy face or a silly Santa hat. We can simply be grateful that Jesus didn’t leave us in this mess. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Here right now. No matter what. He is grieving with us and he comforts those who mourn.
Isaiah 9:6 (NLT), a prophecy about the Christ-child, says,
For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
May it be so for you and me and the world over this Christmas. Cry out in pain, and cry out in hopeful longing that Jesus the Prince of Peace is making all things new.
Jessica Fick serves as InterVarsity’s Regional Evangelism Coordinator for the Great Lakes East region. She blogs at jessicafick.com and is working on her first book for InterVarsity Press.
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