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Christmas- Comfort For The Comfortless 1

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Christmas:  Comfort For The Comfortless 1

Matthew 2:1-18

        Christmas should be a time of great comfort, because we are celebrating the birth of the Comforter, Himself, Jesus Christ.  Now some of you are confused, because the name “Comforter” is normally used to refer to the Holy Spirit.  But, in the Gospel of John, Jesus intimates that while He was on earth He was the Comforter, and when He was gone the Holy Spirit would take His place.  Jesus said in

John 14:16 (NASB), “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”

The word “Helper” is the Greek word parakletos and is translated “Comforter” in the KJV.  When Jesus said that He would ask the Father to give the disciples another “Comforter,” He reveals that He was their “Comforter,” while He was on earth.  And Christmas is about the comfort of God that is revealed in the birth of Comfort Incarnate, i.e. Jesus Christ.

Yet, there are many people, particularly in this country, and particularly at Christmas time, who don’t feel that there is any comfort available to them.  They are without comfort.  They are without any hope of comfort.  They are comfortless.  They don’t believe that Jesus, or any one else; can comfort their saddened hearts.  This is especially and still true, in the light of what happened on September 11th, 2001.

        We see a similar situation in the Bible.  Please turn with me to Matthew 2:1-18.  I will read this aloud for us.

The passage that we want to center on is

Matthew 2:16-18, “Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.  Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.’”


        The setting of this Christmas story is in the days of Herod.  “In the days of Herod;” in the days of the empire of Rome and her imperial forces; in the days of petty dictatorships and rulers under the strangle hold of Caesar; in the days of Caesar worship, where Caesar was worshipped as God and those who refused were punished.  In those days, Herod was a particularly cruel and savage dictator, and  “Herod’s infamous crimes were many.  He put to death several of his own children and some of his wives whom he thought were plotting against him.  Emperor Augustus reportedly said it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son, for his sow had a better chance of surviving in a Jewish community.  In the Greek language, as in English, there is only one letter difference between the words ‘sow’ (huos) and ‘son’ (huios).”[1]

        Herod is a type or picture of Satan, and His dastardly act is a replay of the past.  Thousands of years earlier, Satan used Pharaoh, in the same way that used Herod, in an attempt to destroy Moses.

        And now, for the third time, Satan is intent on destroying small children, in an attempt to destroy the Christ-Child.  Just as Satan wanted to destroy the chosen child in Moses and the Christ-child, Jesus Christ, he now wants to destroy the Christ-child in us, so that there will be no Christmas for us.  Even though he cannot destroy Christ in our hearts, he seeks to destroy the joy of His birth by trying to kill the seed of Christ’s potential, in our hearts.  I believe Satan hates Christmas, because he hates Christ and he hates Christ’s children.  Whether we can conceive it or not, Christmas is about seed, birth, potential, deliverance, etc., and we carry in our hearts and we literally are, in our being, Christ’s seed, Christ’s offspring, Christ’s potential, and Christ’s delivered ones.

        But, Satan doesn’t hate Christmas just because of it’s potential, but also because of his murderous spirit!!!  At the same time, or shortly after Jesus was born, there was also a satanic attack launched.  Herod had every male child in the environs of Bethlehem, from two years old and younger, murdered.  While the shepherds were on their way to Bethlehem, the spirit of murder was already being released in the earth.

The Spirit of Herod, which was the spirit of the devil, was incited to kill the seed of life.  The Spirit of Herod was the Spirit of Pharaoh, which was also the murderous spirit of Satan.  This is the same spirit that was released in the Oklahoma bombing and the Twin Towers Disaster.  This is the murderous, treacherous, spirit of the evil one that is highlighted, in contrast to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of joy, the Spirit of potential; the Spirit of life!!!

        Therefore, we see here two competing spirits:  the spirit of Herod versus the spirit of heaven.

·        The spirit of heaven is one of rejoicing, because of the birth of the Savior of the world.

·        The spirit of Herod is one of grief and sadness over the children that Herod murdered.


I want you to realize that there is a spirit of Satan, at Christmas time, which approximates the spirit of Herod.  Satan wants to kill all of our children two years old and under.  I am not talking about our physical children, although he will certainly do that, if he can.  I am talking about the hopes, dreams, destiny, joy, etc. that our small children represent.  Satan wants to kill our dreams and our destiny, so that his kingdom will seem to reign preeminent over Christ’s kingdom.

(We also covered this same truth in the series of messages on “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!”)

        The book, How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, is about a fictitious character, the Grinch, and an imaginary town called Who-ville.  Every Who in Who-ville loved Christmas, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville did not!

“The Grinch hated Christmas!  The whole Christmas season!

Now, please don’t ask why.  No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”[2]

        Consequently, The Grinch couldn’t stand any of the festivities of Christmas:

·        He couldn’t stand the toys for children.

·        He couldn’t stand the noise that the children would make with those toys.

·        He couldn’t stand the feasting that the Who’s would do.

·        He couldn’t stand the singing that they would do.

        Then the Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea.  He decided that he would steal Christmas.  So, he dressed up like Saint Nick, went down to Who-ville, on Christmas Eve, slid down the chimneys and stole every present, all the food, and every decoration of Christmas.  “He took the presents.  The ribbons!  The wrappings!  The tags! And the tinsel!  The trimmings!  The trappings!”

        The Grinch thought for sure he had stolen Christmas, but the next morning he heard a sound.  He was sure it would be crying, so he cupped his ear to hear the delightful sound of people in pain.  But, instead, he heard people singing.  He couldn’t believe it.  He hadn’t stopped Christmas at all!!!  It came just the same.

        “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!  ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’”[3]

That day the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes.  So, he brought all the presents and food back, and even carved the roast beef himself!!!

        Now I greatly doubt whether Dr. Seuss had this in mind, when he wrote and illustrated this story, but the Grinch is a peculiar looking little character that reminds me of a demon.  Then I thought, “Who is it that really doesn’t like Jesus?”  The spiritual Grinch, Satan himself!  And I’m sure he can’t stand Christmas either.  As a matter of fact, because of what Christmas represents, he must really despise Christmas.  And, as I thought about it, I began to think about how Satan tried to steal the first Christmas.  Unlike the Grinch, Satan doesn’t learn any lessons and he is not going to let up in his quest to destroy Christmas.

        The impact of Satan’s attempt to steal Christmas is seen in the passage before us:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.”

The operative phrase is, “and she refused to be comforted…”  Please hear me:  “This is not normal grief or the normal grief process, but excessive grief!!!  This grief is the demonic spirit of heaviness or sorrow, which we will be studying on Wednesday nights.  Here are people who refused to be comforted.  Is this right?  Should people refuse to be comforted?  It is remarkable that the Lord gave me this series months and months before the destruction of the World Trade Towers, yet America refuses to be comforted, because of the buildings and people that are no more.  In addition, aren’t there those of us who personally refuse to be comforted?  What are the implications of this refusal?

(I would love to jump right into this message, but there is far too much background that we need to cover.)

        First of all, it is interesting that “This slaughter of the male children is mentioned only here in the biblical record.  Even the Jewish historian Josephus (a.d. 37=?100) did not mention this dastardly deed of putting to death innocent babies and young children.  But it is not surprising that he and other secular historians overlooked the death of a few Hebrew children in an insignificant village.”[4]

        Likewise the deaths that we experience at Christmas time may seem insignificant to others.  Those of us who have deep losses that we have properly grieved will be reminded of those losses during the holidays.  The proper completing of grief does not alleviate the sadness that is connected to losses and changes in familiar patterns—and sad is not bad.

        But there are those of us who have not grieved the pain that is related to our losses.  Some of us may not be quite aware of our pain, because we are in denial concerning the pain of our loss.


(But there is another category of people who refuse to be comforted.  Evidently, their pain is so intense that they willfully refuse comfort.)

        “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning.”

Ramah of Benjamin, one of the cities allotted to the tribe of Benjamin, is mentioned with Gibeon and Beeroth, and in the same group with Jerusalem (Joshua 18:25).  “The noise of this voice was heard from Bethlehem to Ramah; for Herod’s cruelty extended itself to all the coasts of Bethlehem, even into the lot of Benjamin, among the children of Rachel.”[5]

        The voice that was heard was a voice of weeping and great mourning.  This is grief at its deepest and most intense.  Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”[6]  Grief is also the complex emotional response to loss.  And grief entails weeping and mourning.  The Encarta World Dictionary defines grief as the

“1. show of sadness:  the feeling or showing of deep sadness following the death of somebody.”[7]

There lamentation and mourning, even great mourning in Ramah; and yet this was not enough to express the sense they had of this aggravated calamity.  There was a great cry in Egypt when the first-born were slain, and so there was here when the youngest was slain, because we naturally have a particular tenderness for the young.

Here is a representation of this world we live in.  We hear lamentation, and weeping, and mourning, and see the tears of the oppressed, some upon one account, and some upon another.  Our ways lie through a vale of tears.[8]  Perhaps the pain of September 11th has begun to fade from our psyches, but that is not the case of those who lost loved ones in that great tragedy.  Some of us also refuse to be comforted!!!  And that refusal may grow out of improper grieving!!!


(But, let’s go a little deeper into this text.)

        The voice that is heard in Ramah is the voice of Rachel weeping for her children.  “Some think the country surrounding Bethlehem was called Rachel, because she died and was buried there.  Rachel’s sepulchre was close to Bethlehem, Gen. 35:16, 19.  Compare 1 Sa. 10:2.  Rachel had her heart much set upon children:  the son she died while giving birth to she called Benoni—the son of her sorrow.  These mothers were like Rachel, lived near Rachel’s grave, and many of them descended from Rachel; and therefore their lamentations are elegantly represented by Rachel’s weeping.”[9]

        A mother weeping for her children must be one of, if not the, deepest kinds of grief.  It is said that a mother should never have to outlive her child.  I have walked with people through this kind of pain and it is almost unbearable. Yet, it does not say that these people could not be comforted, but that they refused to be comforted.  They had something to do with accepting or rejecting the comfort that was available.  “This sorrow was so great, that they would not be comforted.  They hardened themselves in it, and took a pleasure in their grief.”[10]

(Now, please forgive me, I must ask a question, even in the wake of the recent tragedies that America has experienced, “Is there any sorrow that God cannot comfort?”)

        I am not asking about process or time, but the fact of comfort.  The answer is, “No!”  As we say at African-American funerals, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal!”  That is eminently true, but the time to talk about that is not at the funeral.  Emotions are too new and too raw for that kind of intellectual reasoning.  Early on, people are experiencing and feeling the weight of grief and it is best to feel that weight with them.  The Bible tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

        But here, at Christmas time, is the time to intellectually, emotionally, and experientially examine and work with the comfort that is available in the One who is Comfort Incarnate, i.e. Jesus Christ!!!

        From Matthew’s perspective, Jesus is understood as summarizing the whole experience of Israel as well as bringing it to fulfillment.  Every strand of hope and trial in the OT is woven together in the eschatological appearance of the Promised One.[11]  Let’s return to the first verse.

Matthew 2:1, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king...”


This is the answer to all grief!  Jesus was born!

·        Jesus, the Lamb of God.

·        Jesus, the Son of God!

·        Jesus, God in the flesh!

·        Jesus, who was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief!!!

·        Jesus, who operated by compassion!

·        Jesus, who stopped funeral processions and raised the dead!

·        Jesus, who opened blinded eyes and unstopped death ears!

·        Jesus, the Blessed hope of the world!

·        Jesus, our Redeemer!

·        Jesus, Comfort Incarnate!

·        Jesus, the Babe who would become the Son!

And comfort would one day be coming, when the Babe would become the Son of God!!!

Isaiah 9:6-7, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor (or Comforter), Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

Ultimate comfort will one day eventually and eternally come through the justice and righteousness of Christ’s reign from the throne of David!!!

Paul gives us another glimpse of the extent and power of God’s comfort in

2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

“Blessed be God, there is no occasion of grief in this world, no, not that which is supplied by sin itself, that will justify us in refusing to be comforted!  They would not be comforted, because they were no more, that is, they were no more in the land of the living, no more as they were, in their mothers’ embraces.  If, indeed, they were no more, there might be some excuse for sorrowing as though we had no hope; but we know they are not lost, but gone before (us); if we forget that they are, we lose the best ground of our comfort, 1 Th. 4:13.”[12]

1 Thessalonians 4:13, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope.”

Even though they are no more here, they still are!!!  And the God of all comfort is willing and able to comfort us in all of our affliction.

Oh yes, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope.  We do not refuse comfort.  Rather, we learn one of the paradoxes of this life.  We come to understand:

·        Joy in the midst of sorrow.

·        Promise in the midst of tragedy.

·        Peace or supernatural rest in the midst of unrest.

·        Hope in the midst of despair.

·        Comfort in the midst of discomfort.

It is very difficult for us to think our way through, but in actuality these elements should be transposed.  Because of Christmas and what we have in Jesus Christ, what Satan does incites:

·        Sorrow in the midst of Joy.

·        Tragedy in the midst of promise.

·        Unrest in the midst of supernatural rest or peace.

·        Despair in the midst of hope.

·        Discomfort in the midst of comfort.

In Christmas, there is comfort for the comfortless!!!  The Comforter has come to comfort all who mourn.  He told us this in

Isaiah 61:1-3, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.  So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

Will you accept Christ’s comfort as His gift to you at Christmas?

(Now is the Day of Salvation!  Come to Jesus, Now!)

Invitation

Call to Discipleship


----

[1] Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.

[2] Theodore Seuss Geisel, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Random House, New York, New York, 1957.

[3] Theodore Seuss Geisel, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Random House, New York, New York, 1957.

[4] Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.

[5] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

[6] John W. James and Russell Friedman, The Grief Recovery Handbook, HarperCollins Publishers. Inc., New York, New York, 1998, p. 3.

[7] Encarta® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

[8] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

[9] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

[10] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

[11] Hagner, Donald A., Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 33a: Matthew 1-13, (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher) 1998.

[12] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

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