Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, 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 which he had ascertained from the wise men.
So, there was an article in yeterday's Guardian that, while interesting, missed a glorious opportunity. Have a read of this, where Kathryn Hughes rightly argues that in the best Christmas stories it's only when Christmas is imperilled that it starts to mean something. Leaving aside that the same could be said of every story - hell, of life itself - she picks such examples as A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Miracle on 32nd Street, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and even Little Women, and makes her point well.
All well and good, but she rather spectacularly misses the fact that the same could be said of the first and most important of all Christmas stories. No seriously, have a read of what Matthew has to say on the matter. We never show the slaughter of the innocents on our Christmas cards, and it would be bad taste to show up at Christmas parties dressed as oriental despots or their guards, clutching spears with impaled babies on their points... but that's part of the story all the same.
Christmas by its nature is a candle in the dark, a stolen kiss, a magnificent victory snatched from the jaws of a terrible defeat. Following the tale of the Magi or of Luke's shepherds we celebrate Christmas in gratitude, adoration, humility, and splendour, and rightly so. But we should never forget the part that Herod plays in the story, and remember the terror, the vigilance, and the defiance that glows at the heart of the tale of how God wrote himself into our great play...