December 26, 2004
• 13 After the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you for Herod will soon be looking for the child in order to kill him.”
14 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left that night for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. In this way, what the Lord had said through the prophet was fulfilled: I called my son out of Egypt.
16 When Herod found out that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were two years old or under. This was done in line with what he had learned from the wise men about the time when the star appeared.
17 In this way, what the prophet Jeremiah had said was fulfilled: 18 A cry is heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation: Rachel weeps for her children. She refuses to be comforted, for they are no more.
• 19 After Herod’s death, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother and go back to the land of Israel, because those who tried to kill the child are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
22 But when Joseph heard that Archilaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, he was afraid to go there. He was given further instructions in a dream, and went to the region of Galilee.
• 23 There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way what was said by the prophets was fulfilled: He shall be called a Nazorean.
• 13. In relating the story about the slaughter of innocent children and the flight into Egypt, Matthew quotes two verses from the prophets Hosea and Jeremiah about the trials and sufferings of God’s people in past times. Jesus must live in exile and anguish, as did his ancestors. Persecution begins with his birth and will follow him till his death. Mary (and Joseph to a lesser degree) was associated with Jesus’ sufferings and saving mission.
Christian tradition has always held that the “Innocents” associated with the Passion of Christ without having wished it also shared in his glory without having merited it. This invites us to be mindful of the fact that the mysterious love of God envelops millions of massacred children and other hundreds of millions killed before seeing the light of day. What should we think of so many stifled possibilities? Individuals and society responsible for this disaster suffer the consequences; but God has all destinies in hand, he knows them in advance, and no one by destroying life is able to limit God’s generosity. No matter how much innocent blood the enemies of the Gospel spill, they will not be able to extinguish the Church or to block God’s plans.
• 19. The return to Nazareth. Here we have the end of these stories that are intended to introduce us to the Gospel. They announce the mission of Christ: savior misjudged by his own, hounded by authority, he will turn towards the pagan nations. For Galilee was considered by the Jews of Judea as half-foreign and pagan (4:15). Jesus was to remain thirty years in this small village where he grew up and worked as a “carpenter” (Mk 6:3) while the world waited for salvation.
• 23. He shall be called a Nazorean. Matthew plays with this word that brings to mind nezer, or shoot (Is 11:1) and nazorite (Num 6). In those days there were religious groups who preached and baptized, as did John, and they were considered nazorites. Jesus was both nezer and nazorite.
Many people wonder what Jesus did between the ages of twelve, when he was seen in the Temple (Lk 2:41), and thirty, the approximate age of Jesus when he began his ministry. False pretenders take advantage of this Gospel’s silence to speculate that Jesus went to India to learn magic and how to work miracles from the Hindu wonder workers, or even that he visited some outer-space goblins. It does not take much to imagine things!
Let us remember, first of all, that the Gospel is not a biography of Jesus, a narration of his life from birth to death. It seeks only to tell us the most important deeds and words of Jesus by which he gives us his message. It does not tell us what Jesus looked like, whether he was tall or stout, blond or dark, and many other things that did not interest the first Christians. The Gospels of Mark and John open with Jesus’ baptism by John, after which Jesus began teaching. Later on, Matthew and Luke wrote a little about Jesus’ childhood to help us understand the secret of his person.
Secondly, let us read Matthew 13:54-56. The people of Nazareth, astounded by his deeds, do not say: surely Jesus has learned this in foreign countries because he was abroad so much. They wonder: what has happened to the carpenter’s son? We have known him for a long time… what has happened to him?
Thirdly, we can say that to speak the word of God is at the same time to speak a word of human experience. The prophets speak words of God, not as a tape recorder, but as people who feel something and have something to cry out. Jesus could not speak the word of God if he had not acquired, as a man, an exceptional wisdom of what is inside man (Jn 2:25). The years Jesus spent in Nazareth were not really lost. He absorbed the culture of his people and observed events affecting his nation experiencing manual labor, human relations, feelings, suffering and oppression. Jesus had to experience all these things to be our savior, so that his words would be true, weighty and valuable for all times.
= = = = = = =
1. Magi, wise ones, have their limits. Wise in the way of signs and wonders they are politically naïve about the consequences of revealing the limits of power to the powerful.
In the presence of our own limits on wisdom and that of those around us, it is important to listen to those angelic inner-promptings that can lead us through the minefields of life.
2. Prompted by famine or fear, Israelites retreat to Egypt, a temporary refuge (thanks be for our Egypts). Two different Josephs lead folks to the safety of Egypt. One Joseph also leads folks back out of Egypt. While the reference is probably intended to show Jesus as a new Moses, it is Joseph who responds to his burning bush (Herod’s death).
3. Christmas connects a “word of God” with a “word of human experience”. This brings together angelic wisdom with magi wisdom. The result is coming home to a new home (to “half pagan” Nazareth instead of back to “holy” Bethlehem). Apparently it is true that we don’t go home again to the same old home, but to a place of next breakthrough where plenty of differences stimulate new understandings.
May Christmas take us back through our history and on to a new home.
Sermon Index | wesleyspace Home