FOR THE First Sunday in Christmas, we hear of the ancient world’s reaction to the birth of Jesus, who was foretold as the infant “King of kings”. This jealous struggle continues for us yet today.
“Now when they (the wise men) had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
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. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more.”
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Though the story of our Lord’s birth written in Matthew is not all woven as bad on the political stage, since the “magi” who were noted “kings” from the east had already prostrated themselves (“proskonu” in the Greek)… we read that not all so-called powers were happy about the good news. First were those who were on the seats of local and regional government. Also included were leaders of religious realms. Many worship entities and their denominational contenders were anchored to the status quo.
We find that Herod reacted violently, as had been his manner in past events of challenge. He ordered slaughter of any possible contenders to his throne. This spurred a second appearance of divine intervention as related in Matthews account. An angel warned the couple to quickly pack and leave for Egypt.
Rightly, many biblical authorities find the place of refuge as problematic, for historically it was away from Egypt that Moses fled into Midian. However, compared with the Moses tribulations, this is a new… yet similar story.
Likely inspired by that earlier telling and corresponding to it in a number of ways, in some of its details the story also contradicts. To me the differences found point us to realize that even as political reactions to the salvation offered by God through the birth and sacrifice of his beloved Son center our attention… the situation serves also to challenge us. The text subliminally teaches that the direction of flight and shelter for the people of God may geographically differ according to time and place. We as the Church in modern context need to give thought to this political trend as we carry the Word into hostile fields of the world, whether the arena is domestic or foreign.
However, we note also that just as Moses lived in Midian and was taught by God in that place, he did eventually return to Egypt. There driven, he engaged the politically powerful according to an assigned mission. In similar manner, Jesus was carried by his parents who moved by divine direction back into the nation of Israel.
Right Time; God’s Time
Here in the reading the pronouncement that Herod had died looms large. With that ruler’s venomous jealousy abated, the Christ child returned to Israel and grew. In the same way, we of the Church may find a period of quiet growth in faith beneath the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, even after flight and back sliding. God will shelter the faithful from the influences of corrupt governments, apostate denominations and false religions.
We clearly note that under the supposed oversight of a new Herodian tyrant and established religious authorities, which ignored the signs of his birth for reasons of retaining their established power, Jesus achieved adulthood.
This last era as introduced in our reading gives angelic echo to we who are now the Church. We often find our Lord’s people humbly cradled amid threats of hatred and found retreating under venomous evil progressive powers in Church and state to shelter in a modern Egypt-like darkness. Notwithstanding, we in this text finally hear once again from God that there is restful hope available and the promise for renewed evangelism efforts using the gospel rightly preached… even when we cannot see daylight.