18th December 2023


Christmas has become too commercial, and what does Christmas mean in a world of all too much violence? But it was ever thus. The imperial census had brought people to Bethlehem in their droves – no complaints from the hospitality business here. But for a couple awaiting child-birth it meant ‘there was no room in the inn’ so Jesus was born like many a refugee child, apart from human comforts save those provided by his family.

Wise men from the East, without the benefit of rabbis and scripture, came to Jerusalem seeking ‘the one born to be king of the Jews’. And the not-so-wise men, who were the king’s religious advisers, provided the right answer but in the wrong way, because, learned in the law and the prophets, they had failed to act upon what they knew about the birth of the Messiah.

But the words ‘born to be king’ terrified Herod for he was not born into the royal line, and was not even a Jew by birth, but only by transaction. The power he wielded was minimal within the might of Roman rule, but here was a direct threat to his rule and title. His response mirrors so much that is happening in the world today wherever power feels threatened – the massacre of the innocents – all the young boys born in Bethlehem at the same time as Jesus – fulfilling the prophecy of ‘Rachel weeping for her children who were no more’. And for us, recognizing differences of race, religion, and recent history, how many weeping Rachels are there in our world today?

Now, if that is how the gospel story starts, it also ends with the death of Innocence. The Jesus who escaped Herod’s sword in Bethlehem, who grew up to be the only truly innocent man who ever lived, is, at Calvary, through lying, subterfuge and the manipulation of emotions, nailed to a cross, all alone, forsaken by his friends. But by his death he brings the possibility of new life to all, guilty sinners though we be.

John Briggs

Thought for the Day will be taking a short break over Christmas and will return in the New Year.