1st Sunday after Christmas

by Crossings

Matthew 2:13-23
(First Sunday after Christmas)
analysis by Mike Hoy

13Now 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.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went into Egypt, 15and 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.” 16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed 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. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 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.” 19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 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.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archaleaus 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. 23There 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.”

DIAGNOSIS: Trying to Escape

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis: Exiled
Joseph and the holy family have the experience of being treated like outcasts, exiled to Egypt. They are banished to a land where once the people of Israel had been held in bondage. It is a bit of historical irony, perhaps: Egypt is a place of temporary refuge, as it had been for the Joseph of Genesis. But the harshness of history is not lessened. Just ask the Hebrew mothers whose children are lost to the tyranny of Herod. And the vicious cycle does not end with Herod; Archaleaus picks up where Herod left off. Yet even they cannot escape the isolating exile of their evil reputation.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis: Hopeless
This experience of exile — being on the run, having to constantly stay on one’s toes, looking over one’s shoulder — can bring about a sense of hopelessness. One may, like Rachel who “refused to be consoled” (v. 18) in the pain of it all, find little to make life worthwhile anymore. Even Herod’s attempt to eliminate the threatening presence of another king is his own experience of reckless abandonment, his own act of desperation (hopelessness). Victims and victimizers alike are caught in the inescapable bonds of despair.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis: No More
Whether by wicked killing or by eventual death, the one cold truth of history is that all are “no more.” What makes it particularly threatening is that it is all seemingly by design — part of God’s plan to let it happen. Herod dies, the children of Bethlehem are destroyed, and the threat is clearly present that neither Joseph nor those he is protecting will ever be able to get out of life alive.

PROGNOSIS: Welcoming the Capture

Step 4: Initial Prognosis: Delivered
In the final analysis, not even Jesus gets out of life alive. Sure, he is preserved in this narrative, but that is only temporary. Eventually, he, too, would be destroyed on the cross, under the auspices of yet another ruler, under the auspices of a God who seemingly does not answer his cry of abandonment. But God uses the history of this One to solve our historical (and theological) problem. God delivers Him into exile so that He shares our exile. God allows His eventual death so that He takes his place among our own being “no more.” And for what purpose? So that we all might be delivered from the threatening teeth of despots and all of this world’s cruelty, delivered even from death and all its divine consequences. That destruction he takes from us, in order to give us the victory.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis: Obedient
Joseph is obedient to the divine direction that this child has more to offer the world, even in death. But his obedience, his faith, is his own (and our) participation in the history (and the theology) which tells us that pinning our hopes on this child is truly the path to victory. Not despair, but hope rules our hearts in our obedience to Christ’s presence. There is no danger that can fetter the lives of those who trust in him. And it is not only one’s being that is unfettered, but one’s imagination as well.

Step 6: Final Prognosis: Home
Even exiled from land to land, all can find “home” (v. 23) in the promising presence of Jesus. The One who makes his home in Nazareth is the netzer, the “branch” of Messianic hope (Isaiah 11:1). The obedient, faithful ones know that the world is not run by plots and counterplots, but by God’s hand. As such, they get to participate in making themselves at home in the world — saving and reclaiming the world in God’s justice, to be sure, but even more saving and renewing the world in God’s promise of mercy.


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