There is a part of the Nativity story that hardly, if ever, gets included in its telling.

It is familiar to most Christians but often overlooked if not squelched. It doesn’t fit easily into the picture of the gentle infant, Jesus sweet and mild, his faithful parents, angels, shepherds, domestic animals and doves cooing at the stable. It is bitter rather than sweet.

The story re-created in Christmas pageants over the ages starts with boys and girls in bathrobes carrying boxes adorned with costume jewelry wandering down church aisles accompanied by “We Three Kings of Orient,” but doesn’t finish.

You can find the finish in Matthew 2: 3-16. In their search for Jesus, the Magi had spilled the beans to Herod that a new king of the Jews was being born in Bethlehem. Herod let them continue with the understanding that if and when they found this newborn king they would tell him his whereabouts. They visited Bethlehem and left, bypassing Jerusalem and Herod.

Herod, without a name or address, fearful of anything or anyone who threatened his and Rome’s power, his rage and power-lust inflamed massacre. He ordered the mass murder of all Jewish baby boys up to age 2 in Bethlehem and surrounding regions.

Matthew follows the story with a quote from the Prophet Jeremiah, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentations. Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they were no more.”

Why is this an inseparable part of Matthew’s Christmas story?

The profound and beautiful message of Christmas is about a newborn king, a newborn hope. It is about God’s promise that love is the ultimate power, not fear.

Handel gave us the music to sing it. The newborn will rule as Prince of Peace, Wonderful Councilor, mighty in a new manifestation of Divine might.

But Matthew tells us more. He tells the truth of the depths of immorality to which those who rule by the power of fear will go to protect their privilege. Herod represents all who rule by fear, be it nations or families, businesses or churches.

He pushed the ethnic cleansing button at the rumor of a new bully arriving in his neighborhood. He didn’t have the imagination to think that the power that was born and would threaten his control by fear was love.

This is a legend for our time. The currents of today’s culture flow crimson from the wounds of fear.

Witness the power abuse of male privilege revealed in the “me too” movement. Gender relations throughout the world are being challenged by the courage of women who insist that they deserve love and will no longer stand sexual abuse.

May love lead their way, their courage grow, compassion be their weapon and the ascent of female genius shared for all be their triumph as empires built by fear crumble.

Look at the oil drilling authorized by the Trump administration’s tax reform package of the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve and we see more blood in our cultural waters. Look at it with eyes seeing more clearly by the light of the entire Christmas story Matthew tells. The life of the Earth is being sacrificed for income from oil we don’t need to offset tax cuts not to the benefit of the poorest among us but the richest.

The approval of oil drilling is at the expense of increased global warming, polluting pristine wilderness and the death of countless remarkable and vulnerable wildlife who survive and depend on unpolluted wilderness for their life and ways. The same disregard extends to the culture of the Gwich’in and other indigenous people for whom the Arctic wilderness has been home for eons.

Is this not a slaughter of innocents to continue our addiction to a pollution-dependent affluence, a protection of our privilege we are afraid of losing, an offering to fear’s false idol of empire?

Do you believe in Christmas? I do. I believe in the power of love over fear that is the hope and promise of Christmas. And I believe that those of us who choose to follow where love leads will be opposed to fear-wielding opponents.

And I believe those following the Christmas light of God’s love live lives of meaning and joy. And I believe in the blessings of God’s Christmas gifts upon all who choose love over fear – light in the darkness, power through community and compassion, and courage in the struggle for justice and peace.

Merry Christmas.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at: [email protected]