It is tough to write at Christmas. Christmas is the season of love and joy and peace. Everything that is written—a blog, a sermon, a story, a poem—must be filled with love and joy and peace. That is why we get so many stories about children and puppies and romance, angels and Santa Claus and miracles, fulfilled hopes and restored relationships and sappy endings. It is what is expected.
I have on my bookshelf a remarkable book called Christmas (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984). It was one of the first books I reviewed when I became a magazine editor, in the same year that the book was published. It contains the words of the Christmas story (King James Version) illustrated by a series of beautiful, evocative pictures by Jan Pienkowski. Pienkowski is a renowned illustrator of children’s stories. He was born in Warsaw, Poland and grew up during the German occupation in World War Two. The first panel Pienkowski chose to produce for this book illustrates the opening phrase from the gospel story, “In the days of Herod the King.” It is a haunting picture, filled with imprisonment, torture, execution, and even a hint at Herod’s sexual improprieties.
One part of the Christmas story that we do not like to think about but which medieval artists occasionally portrayed is “the slaughter of the innocents,” Herod’s murder of hundreds of innocent children in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus.
Jesus did not come to this world because it was filled with love and joy and peace. He came to this world because it was filled with hate, fear, violence, cruelty, corruption, sin, and evil. He came to be murdered. He came to change things. For us, that change must begin with a recognition of the evil in the world—and in our own hearts—and the need for change.