12 February 2016
What's next? At the end of the Christmas Pagent with the angels shepherds, and baby in the stable , an angel steps forward with dimples on her cheeks and announces "Then Herod killed all the babies."
That is where Matthew finishes the story of Jesus birth.
With a bloody massacre of the children of Bethlehem to destroy the one who was to free the people.
We tell the story with Luke and Matthew put together but they are separate, complete in themselves.
Matthew's version does not have shepherds and inn with no room, nor skies full of Angels nor a manger. Matthew is telling us something very important in answer to the question of those first Christians about who is this man?
He tells it as the One in whom prophecy is fullfilled,who will lead his people to freedom.
And the story has all the trigger points to alert Matthew's readers and us if we know our Old Testament. The Old Testament parallels can be clearly heard.
Listen! Matthew tells us about Joseph, the dreamer.
Twice an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream the first time about Mary's pregnancy and later Joseph is "warned in a dream to escape into Egypt". Remember another Joseph known for his dreams and his interpretation of dreams.
Remember in Gen 37 the earlier Joseph, grandson of Isaac, the one who has the coat of many colours, has dreams, one in which the sheaves of his brothers bow down to him, and later as a slave in Egypt he interprets the Pharoah's dreams.
It was Joseph who brought his family to Egypt in Genesis and in Matthew Joseph finds safety in Egypt.
It was the political authorities who killed the infants to protect themselves in Exodus and in Matthew. It was a boy child who was saved from death in Exodus and in Matthew.
It was "out of Egypt" that the son was called in both Exodus and Matthew. Moses led the first Exodus out of Egypt; now Matthew is telling us that Jesus will lead the new exodus. Israel's story now becomes Jesus' story.
For readers still unable to make the connection between the Old and the New, Matthew finally uses his formula quotation, "This took place to fulfill...what the Lord had spoken by the prophet...
Matthew's point is clear. Israel's redemption is about to be accomplished again. The saving act of God in the Exodus of the Old Testament is about to be seen again through this child Jesus. As the Exodus set the stage for the redemption and liberation of God's people, the birth of Jesus sets the stage again for the redemption and liberation of God's people, this time through the death and resurrection of this boy-child become man.
And as God cared for, provided for, watched over the people of Israel, so God cared for, provided for, watched over this holy family. Jesus is nurtured, raised, tended to, and ultimately raised from the dead and given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18) by this providential God.
Herod and the massacre of infants is an important part of Matthew's story but so often we try to sanitise the Christmas story specially nowadays when anything real will upset the niceness of Christmas.
Joy Carroll Wallis [the real Vicar of Dibley] writes
It's interesting that before the Victorian era, Christmas songs were much more likely to reflect the reality of Jesus' entry into our world. Carols would not hesitate to refer to the blood and sacrifice of Jesus or the story about Herod slaughtering the innocent children. As an example of the contrast, read through the words of "Away in a Manger." Jesus is the perfect baby, and "No crying he makes...." My guess is that Jesus cried a lot. We know from the gospels that the more Jesus saw of the world in which he lived, the more he mourned and wept regularly. A Jesus who doesn't weep with those who weep, a Jesus who's just a sentimental myth, may be the one that our culture prefers, but that Jesus can do nothing for us.
So no sooner have the wise men left the house, then King Herod plots to kill Jesus. He is so determined that he is willing to sacrifice many innocent lives in order to get to this one baby. Herod recognizes something about Jesus that in our sentiment we fail to see: that the birth of this child is a threat to his kingdom, a threat to that kind of domination and rule. Jesus challenges the very power structures of this evil age. Herod has all the male infants in Bethlehem murdered. Not so cozy. This is the Jesus who entered the bloody history of Israel, and the human race. Let's not forget to put Herod back into Christmas.
Herod represents the dark side of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus didn't enter a world of sparkly Christmas cards or a world of warm spiritual sentiment. Jesus enters a world of real pain, of serious dysfunction, a world of brokenness and political oppression. Jesus was born an outcast, a homeless person, a refugee, and finally he becomes a victim to the powers that be. Jesus is the perfect savior for outcasts, refugees, and nobodies. That's how the church is described in scripture time and time again - not as the best and the brightest - but those who in their weakness become a sign for the world of the wisdom and power of God.
The Jesus of the Bible came to give life to those who are living with real grief and pain.
The story that begins with doubtful circumstances finally ends on a cross. By human standards it is a message of weakness. Christmas reminds us that our God has come into our broken world, and that human judgments are not the last judgment, human justice is not the last justice. The power that humans exercise over us is not the last power. For a child is born, vulnerable as we are, and he is called Emmanuel - God with us.
With thanks - this is directly quoting the following references
,i>Putting Herod back into Christmas by Joy Carroll Wallis
Revelation and Response: Matthean Texts for Christmas and Epiphany Carol Mork
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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