A Provocation: 1st Sunday after Christmas: January 1, 2017: Matthew 2:13-23

Matthew 2:13-23

2:13 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.”

2:14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

2:15 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.”

2:16 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.

2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

2:18 “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.”

2:19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,

2:20 “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.”

2:21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

2:22 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.

2:23 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 Nazorean.”

A Question or Two:

  • How long did Joseph, Mary, and Jesus have to hide out in Egypt?
  • Why did the angel not know about Archelaus?
  • Why did the warning in a dream take place after Joseph had already seen the danger?

Some Longer Reflections: 

“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.”

Listen to these words slowly.  Listen for the sound of a mother’s wailing.  Remember how many times you have heard that sound.  Listen to these words from Matthew yet again.  Slowly.

Matthew also listened.

He listened to Jeremiah (31:15), who listened to the wailing at the time of the deportation to Babylon.  But Jeremiah also listened to Rachel, wailing out of the old stories in Genesis (35:18).  Jeremiah listens, and hears in Rachel’s wailing the shrieking of mothers who had survived the siege of Jerusalem, compassionate mothers who, perhaps, had boiled their own children and had eaten them when the starvation was at its worst (Lamentations 4:10).

Matthew listened to Jeremiah and to Rachel.  But Matthew is listening also to the shrieks and wails of those who saw the destruction of the Second Temple, who survived the Roman siege of Jerusalem, who knew the wretched depths to which human beings can be forced under imposed extremity.

Matthew listens, and then tells us the story of messiah, of Emmanuel, of God-is-with-us.  Listen to how Matthew tells the story.  This messiah, this God-is-with-us, hears the same shrieks, hears them as his family runs for their lives in the middle of the night.

I sometimes have listened to this story with some irritation, angry because Jesus escapes while all the rest of the toddlers are killed.  My anger is not directed against Matthew, nor is it directed against Jesus.  My anger is directed against biblical interpreters who hear this story as a tale of Divine Providence and can only see the escape.  Some even hear in it a promise of rescue acted out by a God who is a very present help in time of trouble.  I am angry with such heedless interpretation because it is glad as long as it gets to save Jesus.  It does not care about the other toddlers, two years old and younger, who were killed even though their mothers and grandmothers, fathers and big sisters died trying to protect them.

But Matthew listens, even when his interpreters do not.

Matthew knows that refugee stories often tell us of desperate midnight escapes.  Matthew knows that sometimes even parents and children get separated in the dark and never again find each other.  Because Matthew listens, he tells a story of messiah that does not pretend that the world is pretty and calm.  Matthew’s messiah story spins the wailing of every generation together and weaves it into a shocking story of how God is present in the Creation.  God is with us in the bodies of refugees.  God is with us in the corpses lying in the street.  God is with us in the desperate midnight escape.  And in each case, God is with us, not because everything turns out alright in the end.  God is with us precisely because it does not turn out alright.  Rachel’s wailing is a sign of the presence of God, not of the absence.  Rachel’s voice is God’s voice.

This is a shocking way to tell a messiah story.

Listen to it slowly.  And then listen for the voice of God, with us in our world.

Listen:

  • “Oh God, he shot him!  Oh God, he shot my baby!”
  • “This may be the last time we can talk to you.”
  • “This is what it’s like to be married to a cop: my husband has nightmares, flashbacks, he’s afraid that tonight will be the night, more dead bodies at another car crash, another shooting, another suicide.  He’s afraid he will hesitate and it will cost him his life and leave his daughter without a dad and me without a husband.  That’s what it’s like everyday.”
  • “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.
  • “How do I help my kids deal with my husband’s deployment?”
  • “You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”
  • “Please don’t tell me he’s dead.”
  • “I have been quiet about the fact that my husband is deployed to Afghanistan online. This is to protect his safety and mine”
  • “Go home to wherever you came from and I know you are probably an illegal and take your stupid son with you. How many fathers of your children who are clear mixed.  You both don’t belong here you n******.”
  • “Be careful being married to a cop because they tend to have a lot of issues. Being a cop is a stressful job and scary because you never know when something awful is going to happen. Try getting marriage counseling maybe that might work.”
  • “My husband is deployed and I feel vulnerable.”
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