The grief of Christmas is real. For some, Christmas is a reminder of hurt, deeply-felt pain, and personal sufferings, even as it’s a joyful time of year to celebrate the coming of Jesus as the light of the world with the church, family, and friends.
Maybe this is the way you feel about Christmas. Maybe Christmas invokes a sort of grief that is reminiscent of the weeping of Rachel (Jeremiah 31). Such feelings diminish Christmas celebrations and church services and can cause you to feel distant from the Lord.
The holidays remind us of the past, the death of a loved one, an argument or conflict that goes unresolved. For others, Christmas reminds them of a childhood riddled in poverty, and for others, a gift that was never received. Still there are those who relish in Christmas as a joyous season filled with cookies, parties, movies, and celebrations—so what do we do with grief?
We start with the Christmas story.
Grief in Bethlehem
The story unfolds with Jesus being born. Herod grows upset that the Christ child would take his place on the throne. He didn’t want Jesus to reign. He didn’t believe in Christ. Nor did he recognize his internal darkness.
Overcome by rage, Herod announces an edict that male children, 2-years-old and under, be put to death. Fury comes to the region of Ramah. Christmastime in Bethlehem begins with children dying, mothers and fathers crying, homes shattered with loss.
There is little time to prepare for the grief to come; it comes quickly! There’s utter chaos in Bethlehem. Homes broken into, doors torn down, children ripped from their mothers, little toddlers on the laps of their fathers snatched away to be put to death. Soldiers grimace as they kill innocent children. No one is immune to the horrific scene.
Rachel’s Grief Fulfilled
Matthew’s testimony of Jesus’ birth is a direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15. He reminds the reader that grief struck Israel several times in its history through slavery and exile, and here, grief is personified through Rachel’s weeping. Rachel’s children are led into exile, and the weeping she feels is connected with the incarnation:
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.”
So how does Ramah connect with Bethlehem, where Jesus is born? Ramah and Bethlehem are not far from each other. Ramah is north of Jerusalem and Bethlehem is south, with about 11 miles between both places. Rachel’s weeping at Ramah connects the reader to the grief of Bethlehem.
Rachel grieves because she will no longer see her children. Rachel also grieves for the children in Jesus’ day who will never be seen again in this life. Rachel weeps because grief is real, and so do we.
How to Respond to Grief
At Christmastime, grief becomes a teacher that God uses to direct our hearts back to him. We look at Rachel’s grief, and how it points to Bethlehem’s grief, and we wonder: How should we respond at Christmas when grief is melded together with such a time of joy?
1. We comfort the depressed of heart with words of counsel (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Counsel the depressed with the scriptures. Offer biblical passages that grant hope, sustain life, and refresh the weary and burdened heart. Couch your words with grace and mercy, never accusing, but blessing and listening to the broken. Comforting words are needed in times of grief. Our weeping with grieving people might be the very tool that God uses to help those burdened with sin, doubt, and pain.
2. We preach to ourselves that true hope is found in the Lord (Psalm 42:11).
Maybe you’re the one grieving. Preach the gospel to your grief to reaffirm the sufficiency of God’s Word, which brings life to the soul. What do we preach? We preach that our sins have been removed (Psalm 103:12). We search out those areas where our hearts are prone to wander from the Lord (Isaiah 53:6). Then we read, meditate on, and quote aloud the promises of God that sin has been covered by Christ (Romans 4:7-8).
3. We remember that earthly griefs are temporary moments to prepare us for eternal joy (1 Peter 4:12-13).
The birth of Christ on that evening in Bethlehem ushered in a profound grief during the first Christmas in Bethlehem. God delivers Joseph, Mary, and Jesus from Herod’s hand. But those left in Bethlehem experience grief unimaginable that shows how this present life is preparing us for an eternal joy. For we hope in Christ. God’s promise is sure. We will arrive out of grief, and our faith will become more genuine than precious gold, causing us to rejoice with inexpressible joy.
May you see Rachel’s grief and the real hardship surrounding Jesus’ birth at Christmas as windows into other peoples’ grief, and may the hope of Christ encourage you both to grieve and help the grieving during the holiday season.