Most of us love this Christmas season. We think of the devotion of Mary and Joseph, their humble willingness to raise the Messiah. Our hearts fill with compassion as they’re turned away from lodgings. We remember the angels telling the shepherds about it, and their haste in coming to see the Christ child. It’s all so glorious, only to be topped by the even more glorious Atonement 33 years later, which we celebrate on Easter.
And we love the perseverance and understanding of the Wise Men, who come to visit Jesus when he’s two years old. We know they visit Herod, and that in a jealous rage he orders all babies two and under to be slaughtered. But we don’t always dwell on that ugly part of the story. However, there are things to learn here.
First, we get a glimpse of an unhinged, power-crazed tyrant who will stop at nothing— not even murder—to stay on his throne. Next, the importance of listening to promptings couldn’t be more clear. The Wise Men are “warned of God in a dream” not to return to Herod with news about Christ’s location.
Joseph, too, is warned in a dream to take his little family and flee in Egypt, to keep Herod from killing Jesus. Then Herod proceeds to kill every male baby and toddler in Bethlehem. In Matthew 2:18 we read the fulfillment of prophecy, that there would be “lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
It’s hard to imagine such wide-scale violence, and against the most innocent members of society. Doors bursting open, tiny babies being snatched from their mothers arms, screaming pleas, horrific slaughtering witnessed by other children as well.
Years later, there’s a gap in age for the entire male community. It’s possible that none of Jesus’ apostles were his same age. Some were older, some were younger. Perhaps some even had murdered male siblings. It was a vicious scar that lasted for generations.
How does this ancient event apply to our lives today? We, too, live in a frightening world. We’ve seen violence increase, angry voices fill the air, we’re navigating a pandemic, businesses and schools are closed, opinions are at fever pitch, and many suffer anxiety from the whole of it. How can our Christmas be peaceful, given our surroundings?
Our leaders have pointed the way. President Russell M. Nelson told us that one of the Hebraic meanings of the word Israel is “let God prevail.” He said, “The very name of Israel refers to a person who is willing to let God prevail in his or her life. That concept stirs my soul!”
God will prevail. Just as Herod could not thwart the majestic mission of Jesus Christ, evil conspirators cannot thwart God’s plan to gather Israel, to minister to the poor and sick, to teach truth in every corner, and to prepare for Christ’s Second Coming. Temples are being built, covenants and sealings are being made, people are being taught, hearts are being softened. And all of it is hastening, despite conspiring men and women, despite the turmoil of our present day.
This story also reminds us to seek inspiration. And it teaches us to watch for Satan’s attempts to destroy God’s plan—and each one of us! It’s a chance to summon renewed courage for the battle, and faith in the outcome. It can help us look toward the future, instead of sinking into despair about the present moment.
If you want a good project, look up all the blessings promised to Israel (too many to print here). Picture them wrapped, under your tree, if you like. It’s mountainous. It’s astonishing. It’s humbling.
Herod joined the ranks of wicked tyrants, his evil deeds blackening his name. The innocent children he killed inherited glory in heaven, and Christ went on to fulfill his magnificent, saving mission in every detail. No one could stop God’s purposes. And the same is true today. Christmas is awesome. Joy to the World! God will prevail!
Hilton’s book, A Little Christmas Prayer, is the perfect Christmas gift for anyone, of any faith. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Church Communications.