The birth of Jesus was not met with joy and praise by everyone especially Herod the king. In what is the most tragic and frightening part of the New Testament, we hear about how Herod ordered the genocide of children under the age of two be killed in and around Bethlehem. Herod was more interested in keeping power for himself and for his descendants than being righteous. So he massacred babies and toddlers getting rid of any possibility of threat. It is frightening to think what people are willing to do – in order to keep power and privilege. The sound of the families wailing in various homes in the town of Bethlehem would haunt people for life. The mothers refused to be consoled for their grief as the horror of injustice and pain was simply too much to bear.
Born as the Messiah, and the son of God, with blessings of angels and the recognition from the Magi, you would expect Jesus would be safe and secure, but that was not the case. Even they had to flee for safety. Hiding somewhere in Israel was not a safe option. They had to flee the country altogether and they left for Egypt as refugees. They face a new life like the millions of people who are confined to camps and those who are trying to adjust to a new life in a new country. Jesus is in solidarity with the refugees, with those who were outsiders, who were poor, and who lived with much insecurity.
Adding to the stress of living as refugees, I wonder about the guilt that Joseph must have felt when he learned that his son was spared but not the other children in Bethlehem. I wonder if Joseph thought about if God could protect Jesus, then why not all the other babies? Why couldn’t God send the same message to others? Why couldn’t God send an army of angels to defend against the soldiers? Why didn’t Joseph warn all the other parents?
I once heard about a novel that was written about survivor’s guilt that Joseph must have had. Jesus would have also known and experienced his father’s sense of guilt. Those kinds of things are impossible to hide. It will come out sooner or later. The fact of the matter is that because Jesus was born, all the other children were killed. The author explored the possibility as to what Jesus could do in order to redeem the loss of innocent children. In the loss, they were not just babies, but human life in all their potentials. What could those babies have become when grown up? What could they have accomplished? What love could they have shared, offered, and received? What talents could they have developed, and how could they have contributed to the life around them? The world will never know even as we will never know of so many young people who are killed needlessly and way before their time. The question is, what must Jesus do to ensure that his survival meant something meaningful to all the babies who were killed because of him? Of course, the book is pure fiction, but it raises interesting questions.
Theologically, Matthew explains the connection of Jesus to the Old Testament. We have to keep in mind that Matthew’s gospel was geared towards a Jewish audience. So, Matthew emphasized three times in this short section that Jesus’ birth fulfilled ancient prophecies of Israel. The first is that according to the prophets, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Jesus spending time in Egypt connects with Moses who also lived in Egypt and who played a major role in liberating his people. Secondly, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, it speaks of mothers wailing for her children who refused to be consoled. Because of the sin, cruelty, oppression and injustices happening in our world, there are those who cannot be consoled. They refused to be consoled because nothing anyone can do could bring back their precious babies. Why is this important? Because we hope and pray that such a thing will not happen in the age to come, when all people embrace the eternal ways of Jesus Christ. Thirdly, the prophecy is that Jesus would be called a Nazorean because Jesus would grow up in Nazareth. This explains why Jesus’ family moved to Nazareth from Bethlehem. In Luke’s gospel, however, Mary and Joseph originally came from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be registered because of the census. Here in Matthew’s gospel, there was no mention of a census, nothing about needing to find a place to stay, nor giving birth in a stable with Jesus lying in a manger. Jesus growing up in Nazareth, however, fulfils the prophecy and how he will answer people’s prayers.
Unlike Luke’s version of Christmas, Matthew’s version is pretty gloomy with one exception. The Magis have come afar bearing gifts which was not in Luke’s gospel. Matthew also did not include the shepherds or the heavenly angels singing praises in the night sky. Jesus was born into a turbulent world with the Roman occupation. His birth resulted in the genocide of babies. In many ways, it was much more real and brutal as it is now in our world. Especially, 2016 was a tough year with so much turbulence with terror attacks, worrying climate change, wild fire that engulfed Fort McMurray, and the rise of Trump and hatred. It is precisely in a troublesome world such as this that God enters. After all, healthy people do not need physicians. Rich and self-satisfied people do not feel a need for God as much as those who struggle for life, justice, and hope. To this world, God enters like a vulnerable baby. God comes to us not in thunder and lighting, or mighty winds or earthquake. But, God comes to us in the still small voice. God comes to us in the hope that cannot be extinguished. God comes in like a flicker of flame to shine in the dark, to light other candles, lamps, and bonfires. So, we can live with hope.
In the end, God recognizes that the world can be cruel. So, God sent messages through the dreams to warn Joseph to flee. God made sure that the life of Jesus could go on despite all the problems. God may not cause miraculous interventions, as we would like, but God finds other ways to ensure that justice will prevail, truth will be spoken, hope is renewed, and love abounds. For such assurances, we can continue to sing our songs and pray “Thy will be done.”
Thanks be to God.