Advent Devotional: The Dark Side of Christmas

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-23 NASB

“A voice was heard in Ramah,… Rachel weeping for her children;… Because they were no more” (Matthew 2:18 NASB).

One of my favorite rituals of the Advent season is watching Frank Capra’s classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. Movie critics have sometimes ridiculed this movie for its sentimentality, calling it “Capra-corn.” But the striking thing about this film is not its sentimentality but rather its darkness. It was extraordinary for holiday films of that period to feature attempted suicide. There is a dark backdrop to this Christmas movie. And this sober backdrop is appropriate, for there is a black background to Christmas.

The story of the birth and infancy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel reveals the depth of human evil through the portrayal of King Herod. When Herod hears that the magi are inquiring where the king of the Jews has been born, King Herod thinks not of the deliverance this king will bring to a people long oppressed by sin (2:5-6), but only of the threat to his rule. His desire to maintain his own control leads him to commit one of the cruelest acts recorded in the Bible, the mass murder of the Bethlehem male infants. This is sin in its most horrific form. But it reflects the destructive self-serving and self-asserting attitudes that all of us experience.

It is precisely this sin, violence, and destruction that make Christmas necessary. Christmas will remain merely a nostalgic interlude from winter if we fail to see that we can experience the joy and brightness of Christmas only against the backdrop of the sin from which only the Christ of Christmas can deliver us: “[F]or He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21 NASB).

David R. Bauer is Professor of Inductive Biblical Studies and Dean of the School of Biblical Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is the father of Christopher and has been a member of the WFMC for 30 years.