Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16–18)
This event, often called the slaughter of the innocents, is one of the most tragic events of Christmas. This passage highlights that life and death are part of the first Christmas. But just as the exiles returned to the promised land, so Jesus is ending our exile from God to bring us back home to him.
After the Wise Men tricked Herod, Herod was furious. Herod estimated when the star might have first appeared, then added a little time to determine which children to kill. He may have killed twenty to thirty innocent children in this horrible act. Jesus said, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). This is the plan of our enemy, illustrated for us through the anger and hatred of Herod.
But there is hope. “Matthew is saying that with the coming of Jesus, the time of the exile is coming to a close! He hinted at it in the last verse of the genealogy (1:17). Now he alludes to it through the prophets. The tears shed by the mothers in Bethlehem inaugurate the reign of the one who will shed tears of blood for the forgiveness of sin and who will eventually, in the restoration of all things, wipe every tear away (Revelation 21:4)” (Douglas Sean O’Donnell).
Bethlehem and Calvary are intimately connected. They are each a place where tremendous spiritual battles were fought. This illustrates that we need Christmas, as Daniel Doriani writes. Yes, Christmas is a time to celebrate the beautiful birth of the baby Jesus. Don’t forget that.
But we need Christmas. Christmas signals God’s decisive final action to defeat sin in this world and pay the penalty for our sins. Without Christmas there is no Calvary, no substitutionary sacrifice for our sins, no salvation, no hope. Christmas points out the serious nature of sin and the need for a Savior. Thank God for Christmas, we need it!