The Beauty of Christmas Carnage
Christmas is about destruction. It’s about crushing. It’s about the elimination of God’s enemies.
Intrigued? Let’s see what Matthew says. And as we do, remember: there is more than one way to eliminate and enemy…
In Mathew 2:2, we see Magi, likely Babylonian scientists and astronomers familiar with the Jewish scriptures from Judah’s exile, have come to pay homage to a newborn king, because “we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Why… a star? Many have offered theories about what the Magi saw, but what have they read that has them looking for a Jewish ruler through such a sign to begin with.
Most likely, the Magi are looking for the scepter and ruler of Numbers 24:17.
In Numbers 24, way back in the days of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Balaam, a Syrian seer, has been summoned by the King of Moab to curse Israel, so as to slow and to prevent their steamrolling conquest of local nations who oppose the movement of God’s people. Yet, instead of curses, when Balaam consults God for an oracle, YHWH leads Balaam to pour out three blessings upon Israel. After the Moabite king expresses his outrage, God gives Balaam one more oracle:
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!”
Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction.”
And he looked on the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, “Enduring is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock.
Nevertheless, Kain shall be burned when Asshur takes you away captive.”
And he took up his discourse and said, “Alas, who shall live when God does this?
But ships shall come from Kittim and shall afflict Asshur and Eber; and he too shall come to utter destruction.” (Num 24:17-24)
If this is the King born in Bethlehem the Magi have in mind, they are coming to pay homage to a ruler who has come to destroy his enemies.
So, what is Christmas, and the birth of Jesus, all about? According to Matthew, the incarnation is an event of judgment: Jesus has come to eliminate his enemies.
Yet, what we received in the manger scene looks quite different from this. We received a baby child, who became a traveling Rabbi, teaching of a Kingdom of God that confounded the wise, the reversed the values and the systems of the world, and who taught others to become disciples of himself as the ONE who came to fulfill the promises of God.
But, the incarnation did bring about the conquest of God’s enemies. After 33 years of life and ministry, through the running and spilling of his own blood, and by the power of His own death, God himself, the spotless lamb, was slain. And when he did, the earth was shaken. The skies darkened. In the moment when the great Deceiver though that he might have one, his work through Judas’ betrayal actually secured his own fate, and the fatality of death’s power and domain over the People of God. The sting of death, and the victory of Hades were crushed… by the victory of the cross.
But, Balaam predicted the elimination of multiple enemies, in fact, numerous nations. And, in the form of a servant, Jesus did just that. For let us not forget: there is more than one way to eliminate and enemy…
As we celebrate Christmas, its traditions and comforts leave us far too susceptible to forgetting that we, too, were God’s enemies. We were opposed to Him. Scoffers, mockers, mutineers and God murderers, the curse of sin left us all against God.
Yet, by becoming man in the manger, he could then become sin for us:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5:6-10)
God eliminated us as enemies, not by making us the victims of His wrath, but by adopting us by His love. The babe of Bethlehem came, and wrought certain victory. But he did it not by wrath and by sword and bloodshed of his enemies. He did it by mercy, and by his own bloodshed.
That Jesus came to destroy, is something we should celebrate. Certainly, there is “Joy to the world” for the Lord has come. He makes that no more shall sins and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground. But he comes to make, his blessings flow: far as the curse is found… far as the curse is found.