Tree ornaments are safely nestled back into their boxes and most of the pine needles swept up. Except in our home…I’m determined to keep the tree in place and the many creche scenes on display at least until Epiphany (January 6th), celebrated by many Christian traditions as “Three Kings Day,” or the day was Jesus was made manifest (manifest = epiphany) to the Gentiles.
While many assume only these twelve days of Christmas are the official season, a crucial event cannot be overlooked. Only Matthew records the visit by sages from the East to this child they call the “King of the Jews.” (Do you also find it interesting that Gentiles first acclaimed him as such??) After presenting their gifts, Matthew writes that they were “divinely instructed and warned in a dream not to go back to Herod…” Another divine dream intervention occurs when Joseph is told to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt because “Herod intends to search for the child in order to destroy him,” so–much like the situation in our modern day Middle East–Jesus and the small family become refugees to escape a tyrant’s evil.
But not every family can flee and what happens next dare not be excluded from the Christmas story. Herod’s rage exploded “and he put to death all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that territory who were two years old and under… (Matthew 2:16). The Slaughter of the Innocents.
This isn’t sweet-baby-in-a-manger stuff. No singing angels or bowing shepherds. No cookies, Santas or elves. It’s almost as though God wants us to be stricken with the reality of God’s purpose in Jesus from the very beginning. Bloodshed in the beginning.
The peace, love, joy and hope of Advent, the miracle in the manger, all find their destiny at the cross. This reality erases none of the angels’ triumphant chorus: “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased.” In fact, it is for those “innocents” of Bethlehem and the ones dying today near the Savior’s birthplace, who find true peace because of Jesus.
Don’t quit Christmas just yet. It’s not quite over.