Read: Matthew 2:13-18

Then Herod . . . sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem . . . who were two years old or under. (v. 16)

In Advent we celebrate the good news of the arrival of God’s salvation. But to a lot of parents in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, Jesus’ advent must have seemed like the worst piece of bad news they ever heard. Scholars claim that the total number of children killed in Herod’s purge was probably small. But we can all agree that even one such murdered child would be too many.

Why did Jesus’ arrival lead to tragedy? Sometimes these children are referred to as the first martyrs. But that’s not quite correct. “Martyr” in Greek means “witness,” and so to count as a martyr, a person would have to die on account of their faith in and witness to Jesus as God’s Messiah. These children could bear no such witness. They were just the tragic victims of a horribly brutal and paranoid king.

In Advent we prefer to keep things sparkly and cheery. This story seems to invade our Advent reflections like an unwelcomed guest at a Christmas party. Why do we need to know this? Perhaps to see that when God’s Son arrived, this nasty world convulsed in violence. The grotesque evil of Herod is a reminder of what Jesus came to combat. It’s not pretty. It also reminds us of where this story will end, with Mary’s baby hoisted up onto the cross.

Salvation was never going to be easy. This story reminds us of that difficult truth. —Scott Hoezee

As you pray, thank God for engaging the evil of this world to bring God’s kingdom.

About the Author

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church of North America. He served two Michigan congregations from 1990-2005 and since 2005 has been a faculty member at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he serves chiefly as the Director of The Center for Excellence in Preaching. He is the author of several books, including most recently Why We Listen to Sermons (Calvin Press 2019) and is the co-host of the “Groundwork” radio program.