13Now 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.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill 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. 17 Then 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.” 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarean.”
The story repeats throughout history. Pharaoh is the most powerful individual in the ancient world, but he feels threatened by the people of Israel so he orders the drowning of every male child. Only Moses is saved, through his family’s relentless love and the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses will grow up to challenge the power of Pharaoh and lead his people to freedom. Thousands of years later, Herod is the most powerful individual in his small corner of the Roman empire, and he too feels threatened by the people he governs. He too orders the death of children to protect himself. He too fails, for the child born in his reign will outlive him and bring a new hope to the world that will outlive the Roman empire. Thousands of years later, we hear daily stories of communities weeping for their children because they are no more, and we still see families fleeing their homes to seek safety for their children in distant lands.
This is the dark side of the Christmas story. It is easy to ignore the gathering threat outside the stable in Bethlehem and focus on the cozy scene at the manger. Matthew reminds us not to look away from the stories that break our hearts. Matthew teaches us that the baby in the manger will grow to a man who will call all children to come to him. As his followers, we are called to hold all of God’s children in our hearts. In this Advent season, may we mourn with those who refuse to be consoled, and may we see the face of the infant Christ in every child fleeing from oppression. Matthew reminds us to expect great things from these children, for this is also part of God’s story in our world.
Contributed by Phil Harrington