Some scripture lessons in the Bible are hard to understand. This Sunday the gospel lesson is one of the more difficult to read. The lesson from Matthew 2:13-23 focuses on Herod’s attempt to murder the infant Jesus. In the passage, Herod goes to the extreme of killing all the infant boys in Bethlehem in order to preserve and protect his reign.
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph* got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,* he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.* 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
Now, Diana and I became parents in very pleasant ways. When we became parents we all got dressed up, went to an office or court room, smiled a lot, took pictures and went out to lunch afterward. There was no screaming, no mess, no pain, no sweat. Becoming parents was easy for us. Being parents is a different discussion. But if we really delve into the Matthew passage it is very different. If we pause and think about the true reality of what the gospel is reporting there is great pain and distress. Imagine, the fear of Mary when she realized she is unexpectantly pregnant. Imagine the pain and anger of Joseph as he contemplates his betrayal and impending divorce. Imagine birth 2000 years ago. Surely it was far risker and filled with pain and even danger then. Imagine the sound of infants being pulled away from screaming parents and executed. Imagine a family being forced to leave their native land because their family would not be safe among their own kind.
Christmas and the birth of the baby Jesus can be domesticated as we worship the cute baby Jesus, but when God became incarnate, God took on all of the pain, fear, and risk to body, mind, and spirit that we all know. And yet, God tells Joseph to name him Immanuel – God with us.
On Sunday, I will not be dwelling on the, “Slaughter of the Innocents,” as the gospel passage is often called, but I will be sharing the story, “The Gift of the Magi,” and the sacrificial love which God demonstrates in Jesus Christ and to which God calls us.
Bring the kids, because I will be using a video of Kristen Chenowith telling a shortened, but engaging, reading of O. Henry’s story. It won’t be a cartoon, but neither will it be a 10 or 12 minute reading. Hope to see you Sunday.