After the birth of Jesus, Herod the Great became aware of the Messiah’s birth through the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12). As was his norm, Herod became enraged with anger at the thought of anyone questioning his claim to power. He sought to find the toddler Jesus and kill Him before Jesus could establish any “competition” to Herod’s throne. Not knowing exactly what the Savior looked like (but knowing His rough age and region of residence), Herod ordered that every male child under the age of 2 living in the region around Bethlehem be killed. Historians estimate that around 20 children probably lost their life at the tip of Herod’s sword during this tragedy. However, one of those children who were spared during Herod’s persecution was Jesus, who was rescued to Egypt at divine direction with his family.
As the infant boys of Bethlehem were killed, and as Jesus fled to Egypt, Matthew saw a parallel with that event and the events of Jeremiah 31:15. (Matthew quotes Jeremiah in Matthew 2:17-18.) In its original context, Jeremiah personified the weeping of Jewish mother’s as their sons were carted off to exile in the land of Babylon hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Not only would these mother’s not see their sons again, but it probably felt as though the future of the nation of Israel (and the promised Messiah) were in jeopardy as well. Jeremiah personified the nation of Israel through their “mother” Rachel (who was buried near Bethlehem.) In his Gospel, Matthew sees the nation also weeping as Jesus flees the nation and heads to Egypt while other infants are being slaughtered in Bethlehem.
It certainly must have looked like the world was out of control at that moment. Things which looked so joyous and promising at Jesus’ birth seemed so hopeless as He exited stage left. The weeping in Ramah is a symbol of the tears of strain and struggle that this life brings on. Many of you reading this have your own pain that leads to your own tears. Death, divorce, disease, etc. challenge our experiential understanding that God is on the throne. We feel like we are standing at the roadside watching hope walk away all too often in our lives.
BUT, at Christmas time, we need to remember that HOPE CAME HOME. Jesus did not stay in Egypt . . . but He came back, eventually dying on the cross for our sins. Jeremiah 31 again proves to be a helpful supportive text. Matthew quoted Jeremiah 31:15:
“Thus says the LORD: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children because they are no more.'”
No doubt, however, Matthew also had in mind Jeremiah 31:16-17, which continues:
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
Not only did Israel come back from the Babylonian exile, but Jesus came back from Egypt. AND . . . though there are tears we cry today, we need to remember that (one of these tomorrows) Jesus is coming back for us as well!
We have a real and certain hope in this life . . . and that hope is found in Jesus Christ. As we celebrate and remember His first Advent at Christmas, let us also fix our hope on His second Advent, and remember that He is coming back. Though there is weeping in Ramah today, we have a living HOPE FOR TOMORROW!
Merry Christmas friends!