A group of people walking down a dirt road


ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Christmas 1A2023
Matthew 2:13-23

Imagine, having just been visited by wise men from the east, Joseph receiving the angel of the Lord in a dream.
Imagine Joseph hearing of King Herod’s plan-to kill all children in and around Bethlehem two years old and younger because he hears from the wise men of a baby born king of the Jews.
Imagine Joseph running to Mary, their whispered conversation, their fear, their panic.
Imagine them stuffing sacks full of food, trading the gold, frankincense, and myrrh for necessary goods at the market, wrapping extra cloaks around themselves to ready themselves for travel.
Imagine their scurry to the homes of family on their way out of town that very night.
Imagine them under the cover of darkness traveling by foot from Israel to Egypt, a distance of at least 260 miles.
Imagine their trembling as they skirt soldiers in occupied Israel, as they encounter peoples of other cultures, nations, and languages unknown to them along their route, as they enter the wilderness of wild animals and no electric light with a two-year-old.

It is nearly unimaginable. Yet this is not simply a Christmas story from two thousand years ago but a story that is happening today, right now. In this moment, as we sit here, families are fleeing their homes because of war or violence, because of economic despair or their political identity, because of their religion or sexual orientation, because of climate change or natural disaster. Young women and men who caught each other’s eye, gathered with their families for wedding celebrations, rejoiced with the birth of children, and are now on the road. Long-married couples, strong and weak, who survived and even thrived but are now walking for days in extreme weather or are in boats without drinking water or waiting in shelters at borders. Children who do not understand what is going on, whose experiences of depravation and fear are shaping their lives in traumatic ways. Whatever their reasons for escape, whether we approve of those reasons, whether or not we agree with their assessment of the situations in which they find themselves, one thing is clear: for these families, these situations, whatever they are, are worse than risking their lives and their children’s lives by fleeing. These situations are worse than the unimaginable difficulty of fleeing.

For Mary and Joseph, staying in Israel with the knowledge that Herod would see to the murder of their son, the one born of the Holy Spirit, for Mary and Joseph, fleeing to Egypt with its uncertainty, practical difficulty, and disconnection from family and community is better, safer, more secure. They flee to a land where they don’t speak the language, where they don’t practice the religion, where they do not know a single soul, and it is better than staying in Israel with the terror imposed by Herod’s decree. I am not a parent, but for those of you who are, I trust you would care for your child in much the same way. Whatever you could do to safeguard their life, you would. No question. Mary and Joseph are loving parents, just like you. They love their son Jesus. All of the many parents fleeing violent, untenable situations all around the world today are parents who love their children.

King Herod is really just a tetrarch, a regional leader within the Roman Empire whose power depends on his allegiance to Rome and Roman law. Unlike the autonomous power of true kings, Herod is a cog in the wheel of the Roman Empire, his power conditional and dependent. So, when he hears from the wise men who ask where they might find the child born king of the jews, he panics. He feels threatened. Herod fears a baby. From one perspective, it is a comedy, a king fearing a baby. From another, it is an ironically sorrowful tale about the lengths we will go to secure our power, a tale with which we are sadly familiar. This story, of corrupt power, is also happening today, right now, in so many places and in so many ways that we tired of even naming them.

The tale of corrupt power, the tale of a family fleeing are part of the Christmas story. It’s not all silent night and joy to the world. It’s not just about the little town of Bethlehem and hark! The herald angels sing. In the middle of this troubling story, God sends an angel in a dream to Joseph not just once, not twice, but three times. God secures the life of Jesus by directing Joseph where to go and what to do.

Of course, our question is probably: what about the other babies, the other families, the two years’ worth of missing children? What about the children, the parents, the grandparents fleeing today all around our world? What about them, God? What about all of them? We don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t make sense of it, why God would enter the world in a baby and then allow Herod to kill innocent children. I can’t make sense of it—just as I can’t make sense of all the reasons people are fleeing today and why God allows it.

But because this too is part of the Christmas story, I wonder if the good news buried under sorrow and injustice, murder and grief is the proclamation of this lamentation today. I wonder if the good news for Mary and Joseph is a God who carries them through the wilderness from Bethlehem to Egypt, who recognizes their fear and panic and love for Jesus, who is with them in real time as they flee. I wonder if the good news on this sad day is that we are willing to bear witness to the suffering of all those whose lives are at risk. It is so easy to ignore suffering, to step away from the TV and radio and internet. It is so easy to say: this has nothing to do with me. I wonder if our openness to question the goodness of God and our desire to make the world right is the grace that emerges today. For if we ignore the suffering and injustice of the world, through whose hands and feet will Christ work? With Rachel and all the mothers of Bethlehem, we wail and lament the suffering of the world, a grief we bear along with all those who flee this day. Our lament, our heartbreak, our willingness to hear the underside of Christmas is itself the grace of the Christmas story. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Photo: David McLenachan at Unsplash