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The Weeping of Christmas

December 18, 2022 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: The Wonder of Christmas

Topic: Christmas Passage: Matthew 2:23–20

The Wonder of Christmas

Allen Snapp

Grace Community Church

December 18, 2022


The Weeping of Christmas

We’ve looked at the Waiting of Christmas and the Worship of Christmas, this morning we’re going to continue reading in Matthew 2 as we ponder the weeping of Christmas. This story picks up just after the magi follow the star to Jesus and worship him. Let’s pick it up in verse 13:

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.”

This tragic event is part of the Christmas story but for understandable reasons we don’t hear it preached very often. Joy is rightfully associated with Jesus’ birth but joy doesn’t mean an absence of sadness and sadness doesn’t mean an absence of joy at least in this fallen world. But I believe the Lord has a word of encouragement for us from this passage and I promise it will end on a note hope.

Most of us are familiar with the story but we don’t want to miss the cruelty and horror of this evening. Herod, fearful that this new babe born a king will threaten his rulership, orders his soldiers to go to Bethlehem and kill every male child two years and younger.

The sound of mothers screaming must have filled the night as their young sons were torn from their arms and killed in front of them. In their cries Matthew sees the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Jeremiah’s prophecy is also poetry and while we may not understand what Jeremiah was referring to it feels right here as it captures in haunting poetry the voice of weeping that must have filled the streets in Bethlehem that night.

But still we have questions: why Ramah when this is Bethlehem? Why Rachel’s voice? What is this prophecy referring to and why does Matthew apply it to this situation?

To understand it better let’s go back in time to Genesis when Abraham’s grandson Jacob falls in love with a

beautiful woman named Rachel and works for her father for seven years to win her hand in marriage, but her father Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Rachel’s older sister Leah first, and then he gives Rachel’s hand in marriage to Jacob. Leah and Rachel develop an unhealthy jealousy and competition between each other. Leah is jealous of Rachel because Jacob makes it clear he loves Rachel more than her. Rachel is jealous of Leah because as time goes on, Leah conceives and gives birth to five sons and one daughter while Rachel is barren.

At last Rachel conceives and gives birth to Joseph and then some years later conceives again. It’s at this point that Jacob uproots his family and travels 550 miles south on his way to Bethlehem. When they get to Ramah, Rachel goes into labor but it’s a hard labor and Rachel knows she is dying. The mid-wife says “good news, you have a son” but that doesn’t comfort Rachel for she knows her soul is departing. She names her son Ben-oni, which means, son of my sorrow. Son of my weeping.

Rachel is weeping because her sons are being torn from her, not by their death but by her death. She will never see all the things she dreamed of for her sons: never see them grow into men, never see them get married, she will never hold her grandchildren. She is a mom whose sons are being torn from her arms. And her voice was heard in Ramah as she wept as only a mother being separated from her sons can weep.Rachel was buried there in Ramah and then Jacob continued the journey with his family to Bethlehem.

Many centuries later in Jeremiah’s day another tragic separation would unfold in that same city of Ramah. After Nebuchadnezzar’s army devastated Jerusalem, burning their homes and destroying the temple, he took the best and the brightest young people to Ramah as a waystation before taking them into exile in Babylon. Once again Ramah was a painful place of separation as these young men and women, many of them teenagers or younger, were separated from their parents who were left to rebuild and work the land. Ramah is a place of forever separation as mothers are once again having their children ripped from their arms, knowing they will never see them again. In that place Jeremiah hears a voice, the voice of weeping. Rachel, buried long ago in Ramah, is once again weeping for her children that she has been separated from.

Ramah is a place of separation, of pain, of inconsolable loss. Matthew hears the voice of Rachel in the streets of Bethlehem (about 11 miles south of Ramah) because Rachel died in one city while traveling to the other. She died in Ramah while looking at Bethlehem. So poetically her weeping can be heard in Bethlehem over the murder of the Innocents.

I want to talk to you about the redemptive place weeping has in the gospel and the Christmas story. I don’t want in any way to diminish the horror of this story or of the many stories throughout history of cruelty and evil and injustice. Sin and Satan are real and their devastation is real. The weeping is real, the pain is real.

The Bible is no stranger to tears. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet and wrote the book we call Lamentations - the book of weeping. Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. And that first Christmas, along with good news of great joy, brought bad news with great weeping. The weeping of Christmas. The weeping of Ramah. Of separation.

We will all experience our Ramah’s where something or someone we really care about is taken from us. Thisworld is full of Ramah’s and it’s a very real part of life, so I’m glad it’s a very real part of the Christmas story.

Jesus didn’t come to deny our Ramah’s but to speak hope into them, and to redeem them into something beautiful. So I want to share some redemptively beautiful and powerful things about Ramah – that place of weeping and separation.

But first let’s balance this out emotionally. Life isn’t all sad and it’s not all happy. I am an optimist at heart (ask my wife) and generally I’m a happy person. It sometimes annoys me when people think that “going deep” always has to mean “going sad.” If you ask me how I’m doing, there’s a 75% chance I’m going to answer “doing good” and it bothers me when people say, “But how are you really doing?” as if being real always has to mean being sad. We do have happy days, don’t we?

In fact, as I was working on this message, I watched Pharell William’s video “Happy” and watched as people sing, dance, and clap about how happy they are. Great song! Happiness has power too! One line is “Clap along if you feel that happiness is the truth!”

I’d change that to “happiness is a truth.” Not the only one. Cause sometimes sadness is a truth too. See when I feel happy and you ask me how I’m doing, I’m being real when I say, “I’m doing good.” But catch me on a bad day and, if I know you well enough, I’ll tell you, not that good.

So if you’re happy, enjoy it! But there are years where we will be sad. Holidays can be especially sad times for those who have experienced recent loss, or financial hardship, or are separated from loved ones. Or are just sad. The Christmas story meets us there, too. There was weeping that first Christmas season too.

  1. Weeping isn’t a contradiction to the joy of Jesus, it’s a beautiful part of it

In her book, Bittersweet, subtitled, How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, Susan Cain tells the story of Peter Docter who was writing an animated story for Pixar called Inside Out, the story of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley. Docter wanted to boil Riley’s emotions down to four primary emotions depicted as animated figures and he decided that along with Joy, Fear would be the main character because he knew Fear can be funny.

But as Docter was writing the third act, he hit a wall. At the point where his story arc had Joy learning a lesson, what he found was that Fear had nothing to teach her. Ironically he discovered that it was Sadness that had something to teach Joy. It was Sadness that connected with Joy.

Sadness connects with Joy on a deep level in our hearts. Haunting melancholic melodies can often stir far deeper emotions in us than cheerful tunes tend to do. Both are good – but there is a longing, a desire for something - a home we’ve never known - that melancholic melodies can give us a glimpse of.

Psalm 56:8 says that God puts all our tears in a book. He collects all our tears in His bottle. That is a poetic way of saying God doesn’t forget our sorrows and pain. They aren’t discarded or unimportant to God. Because we are precious to God our sadness is precious to God too.

In heaven, we will be able to run on high-octane joy all the time. I think joy in heaven will be as emotionally complex as sadness is here on earth. But in this life, our joy can’t be 100% pure and undiluted. We need sad days too.

Sadness connects with joy and has something to teach joy. Often it’s in sadness that we learn kindness. Compassion. A deeper depth of love. Sadness has something to teach our joy. Sadness doesn’t contradict the joy Jesus gives us, it is a beautiful part of it.

  1. Jesus came so that weeping isn’t the last word, hope is

Jeremiah heard the voice of Rachel weeping, but that wasn’t the last voice he heard, for in the next verse he writes:

16 This is what the Lord says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy.
17 So there is hope for your descendants,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.

There’s the voice of Rachel weeping, but then there’s another voice: the voice of God speaking hope. Your work will be rewarded. There is hope for your descendants. Your children will return one day to their land. Weeping isn’t be the last word, hope is.

Rachel named her son Ben-Oni, Son of My Sorrows. Jacob renamed him Benjamin, Son of My Strength. Rachel only saw sorrow, Jacob saw strength.

God is the God who brings beauty out of ashes. Ashes represent something devastated beyond repair. Burned beyond use. Broken beyond beauty. But God sees in ashes the potential for beauty. What sorrow has reduced to ashes, God can restore to beauty. He can take our regrets and redeem them into beautiful lessons. He can take our sinful mistakes and redeem them into opportunities for grace and forgiveness.

Jesus came so that for all who believe in him, weeping isn’t be the last word, joy is. Weeping may last the night but joy comes in the morning. Some weeping lasts a season and then we move on. Some sorrows, like the sorrow of these mothers separated from their children, will last the remainder of our days on earth. We will never fully recover, never be “over it”, never laugh like we once did. Some will enter the presence of God with tears in our eyes, and the Bible says God Himself will wipe away our tears.

  • Take that situation that is heavy on your heart and go ahead and weep, but as you weep, call upon God and ask Him to turn that sorrow into strength!
  • Maybe you’re looking at bridges you’ve burned, relationships you’ve burned, or opportunities you’ve burned and all you see are ashes. Bring those ashes to God and believe that He can make them into something beautiful. You can’t. But God can. Jesus came to take burnt lives and restore in them the image of God.
  • If someone in your life is in a sad season, don’t blast them with joy, weep with them. Gently encourage them that God is Emmanuel, God with us. Pray for God to connect their sadness to joy. Love them.

Weeping is real. The weeping of Christmas was real. It’s a part of life and God uses it. But Jesus came so that weeping isn’t the last word, joy is. Jesus is good news of great joy.

More in The Wonder of Christmas

December 11, 2022

The Worship of Christmas

December 4, 2022

The Waiting of Christmas