“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.” (Matthew 2:18 NLT)
This is not everyone’s favorite Christmas verse. We’re unlikely to read it during Advent worship on Sunday morning. Yet it’s there, in the text, solidly a part of Jesus’ birth story. Jesus’ birth so upset the human king that, in an attempt to stifle the real kingdom, Herod murdered all the boy babies in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. He would ensure no mere Messiah could ever challenge his power. Power and fear, easily seduce those who live by their call.
For the women of Ramah, the birth of the Christ only reminded them of death. I think of this part of the story when I think of women who have lost children, particularly around Christmastime.
Seven years ago, Connecticut mamas sent their children to school on a cold day in December, and their babies never came home. Three years later, Christmas felt like Ramah for fourteen sets of parents and loved ones in San Bernardino, as they mourned family who would not sit around a table listening to dad jokes, eating ham and turkey, or arguing about the superiority of pumpkin versus apple pie.
Mothers at our southern border weep for the children they have had torn from their arms who will not be with them this Christmas, and the pain intensified at not knowing where their babies have been taken.
Perhaps you, my friend, have lost a child near December—to death, estrangement, miscarriage, nullified adoption, or some other cause. You know the weeping of the women of Ramah for their children. The old KJV says their children “are no more,” but the NTL tells it straight—“for they are dead.” Women who know like it told straight.
Most of us are blessed not to know the weeping of the women of Ramah, but some have felt its gut-punch in December, and their stories, too, make up what it means to welcome Jesus into our world.
The women of Ramah know easy assurances don’t come in the face of horror. They know what we forget—that this world needs not a baby Jesus but a Savior, because it’s an all-out mess. The women of Ramah understand that the world is terribly broken, not just sprained. They grasp the seasonal words that we, in a land of comparative ease, sing along with the radio but don’t really comprehend. So often, sin and sorrow do reign, and the curse is found right at our front door. Joy doesn’t need to come to the world unless the world already profoundly mourns.
If assurance came easily, the Son of God would not have had to be born on this earth with the intention of dying. “Easy” doesn’t begin in a virgin’s uterus and a trough with wood that stinks of the barnyard. “Easy” doesn’t end up on a cross. There’s nothing easy about innocence giving its life for evil. It’s complicated and messy, and the women of Ramah know.
We won’t recognize its meaning, or its greatness, unless we’re willing to sit with the women of Ramah, whoever and wherever they are, and listen to the wailing, weeping with those who weep. So long as we cocoon ourselves in warmly tinted colored lights and snow scenes (and I do love Christmas lights and scenery), we won’t see what Christmas actually means.
N.T. Wright tells us, “Christmas is not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place. . . Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight.”
You want a surprise? Christmas isn’t really for children. It never was. It’s not for the meek and mild at all. It’s for hardy souls who are willing to admit that the world needs a healer and mender. It’s for those who weep—those who know, more deeply than we want to know, that evil is real and that Jesus willingly waded through it in order to break its power. It’s for those courageous enough to take that redemption into our lives in ways that matter.
Rachel and her children form part of our Christmas story, and God meant for that story to be told. God meant for us to see that breaking the power of evil comes at a price, and Jesus came to break that power. That, my friends, is joy to the world.
Scriptures for Reflection
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 NLT)
“You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 NLT)
“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5 NLT)
Reach for More
Do you know one of the “women of Ramah”? What tangible thing can you do for her this month to show Jesus’ incarnated love? I once spent every day of December dropping a small gift at the house of a friend going through a painful time. It wasn’t big or difficult—yet it meant more than I imagined. Pray and write down some ideas you can use to bring her joy.
This post originally appeared at The Glorious Table. Check them out for a great mix of thoughts and ideas from Christian women.