December 6, 2015: Fearing for their child’s life, Joseph & Mary flee

Posted on : Dec 3rd, 2015 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Fear is everywhere today. A few weeks ago we witnessed the terrorist attack in Paris. 130 people died.

Wednesday, a mass killing occurred much closer to home – literally. This time it was the senseless murder of 14 San Bernardino County workers.

It is still unclear what caused this couple to commit these heinous acts of murder, but there is an underlying concern that it may be related to terrorism. These kinds of acts are act of terrorism, whether they are related to international terrorism or US terrorism. Regardless of origin, they cause fear and terror in us all.

So where is Christ in this mess? Where is Christ coming into our lives and world this Advent? Where is that sweet peace that we associate with the birth of the baby Jesus at Christmas time?

What we are experiencing today is exactly the kind of violent world that Jesus was born into. Luke’s Gospel has the shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over the flocks with angels suddenly appearing singing, “Glory to God in the Highest! And on earth, Peace, among those with whom God is pleased.” Matthew tells the story a bit differently. Matthew is more “in the moment.” Matthew tells of a world that lived in fear, in terror because they were terrorized by a tyrant ruler, named King Herod. Herod didn’t like anyone who threatened his authoritarian power, so anyone who dared to do that was put to death. Someone texted Herod and said “New king of the Jewish nation born #WatchYourBack.” And Herod went nuts. He summoned every wiseman, astrologer, soothsayer and scholar to find out where this child was born, so he could put it to death. But God was one step ahead of him. God warned the Wisemen not to return to Herod and then warned Joseph in a dream to get the heck out of Bethlehem immediately. Herod became furious when he discovered the Wisemen and God had out smarted him. So, in a rage, he ordered that all male children who were two years old and younger living in and around Bethlehem be put to death.

This story is not often told during Advent and Christmas. It is too discomforting. It destroys the Christmas vibe. It is much too violent. The story actually has its own name in the biblical tradition. It is called “the slaughter of the innocents.” O dear God, I’d much rather hear about the serene, peaceful shepherds and angels, and Wisemen bringing gifts from Lord & Taylors, Neiman’s and Tiffany’s than the slaughter of innocent children by Herod, Bashar al-Assad or ISIS.

So why is this horrible story included in Matthew’s gospel, even if we’d prefer to ignore it?

There is a message here that we need to hear. And here’s a clue. When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, s/he comes with this message:   “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy which shall come to all people.” Likewise, when the angel appears to Mary at the tomb on Easter morning, s/he has the same message: “Do not be afraid.”

We badly need that message today. Do not be afraid. But what does it mean for us today to “not be afraid?”

This is how I envision that this story of hatred and violence concludes:. Shortly after the death of the innocent people whose life on earth was so violently taken and shortly after the death of those who took their lives, God gathers them all together – bloody, wounded, and broken, and says, “Ok, now let’s talk.” To the perpetrators of violence and death God asks, “Why did you kill these innocent people?” They all have to stay together until the people who committed these horrible acts finally realize that the people they killed were just like them.

Fear does crazy things to us. But God’s mercy and truth can bring peace in our lives.

Advent Blessings,

Dan

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 2: 1-23

Fearing for the child’s life, Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt!”

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” And hearing this, Herod the king was troubled, and all Jerusalem as well; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told Herod, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

            ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

            are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

            for from you shall come a ruler

            who will govern my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the magi secretly, ascertained from them what time the star appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” When they heard the king they went their way; and the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered the child gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

After the Magi had left, the angel of God suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph with the command, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you otherwise. Herod is searching for the child to destroy him.” Joseph got up, awakened Jesus and Mary, and they left that night for Egypt. They stayed there until the death of Herod, to fulfill what God had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I have called my own.”

Herod became furious when he realized that the astrologers had outwitted him. He gave orders to kill all male children that were two years old and younger living in and around Bethlehem.

            Then what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

                       “A voice was heard in Ramah sobbing and lamenting loudly:

                       It was Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled,

                       for they were no more.”

After Herod’s death, the angel of God appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt with the command, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and set out for the land of Israel. Those who had sought to kill the child are dead.”

Joseph got up, awakened Jesus and Mary, and they returned to the land of Israel. Joseph heard, however, that Archelaus had succeeded Herod as ruler of Judea, and Joseph was afraid to go back there. Instead, because of a warning received by Joseph in a dream, the family went to the region of Galilee. There they settled in a town called Nazareth.

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