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 to 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 all 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 through 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, 20Get 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 Archelaus 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."
Our first impressions of Christmas are the star, angels, Jesus-child lying in Mary’s lap. Stable, animals, shepherds, magi and their precious gifts. With these images the message that God has born to human is delivered to us every year. However, if we continue reading the gospel further on from the stable as we did today, we will find something disturbing. The Messiah is born to this very same world we are living in, and not in a dream world, where everything is just peaceful and harmonious. The cross is already dimly in the picture.
The narrow escape of the holy family is like a foretaste to show that to what kind of a world the Messiah has born into and how this world treats anyone sent by God. It feels that the forces of the darkness attack immediately as even the tiniest light appears into the world.
The first one to react was the King Herod the Great. After hearing the prophecy and meeting with the magi, that were looking for a newborn king, he started to feel insecure, because where ever there are more than one ruler, the other has to go and I guess that Herod wasn’t too confident that he would be the last king standing. King Herod the great wasn’t great because of his greatness. More like it, he was greatly feared especially by the people near him. History books describe him as a paranoid ruler, who suspected especially his own family members of conspiring against him. He had his own wife and some of his sons executed because of his doubts about their loyalty. No wonder that Emperor Augustus, the same, that started the registration, had said that he would rather be one of Herod’s shepherds than one of his sons. Having couple of ten kids to be killed was not a big deal for a man like Herod.
Also among today’s rulers we can find ones, that do not care about the lives of children more than any other lives. Although all kind of war is wrong and against what God has intended human life to be, we all find it utterly disgusting and against any rules of humanity that children are involved in wars, too. Whether they are victims or recruited as child soldiers, it doesn’t matter. In both cases children’s lives are ruined and hatred, bitterness and wars will continue.
Again Joseph wakes up from a dream. Last time he had more pleasant message from the angel. This time the message is urgent and scary and on the road they go – towards Egypt. Joseph and Mary adapted to new challenges without any whining or hesitation. They had said to the Lord that they would be available to the task that was ahead of them; to be as a mother and a father to the Son of God. It had already meant that they have to leave from Nazareth to Bethlehem, be there rejected by people and still give birth in an improper shelter. Now they had to bend again and leave and they became immigrants. They had been humiliated already a lot. In Nazareth Mary had probably gained a reputation as a bad woman, when her pregnancy got visible before her and Joseph’s marriage took place. Joseph had probably become ridiculed by others by accepting Mary and her unborn child as his own. In Bethlehem they were supposed to be among relatives, but even there they were not accepted in the same rooms, where other travellers from the House of David were billeted. And now their child’s life was on stake.
Even though I have difficulties to accept, that God planned these things to happen, He let these things happen and we face an eternal dilemma of why God lets bad things happen to people he loves? I have no answer to this question, but the trend in the Bible seems to be that for some reason, God lets people who he has chosen, to experience more hardships than easy days. May be God trained them to become totally dependant of Him only? No safety from relatives, friends or kinsmen. I think this is an immigrant experience in every time and place – also in today’s Canada.
Most of us have a connection to immigration. If not we ourselves, then our parents or grandparents left something behind and came here to live without roots, without support, without language to communicate. It is a scary and, in many occasions, a humiliating experience. It should be told to the next generations just to make sure, that they understand their roots, but also, that they would be able to understand the newcomers and their life.
In Old Testament, there is a repeated reminder to the people to remember, that they were once slaves in a foreign country and thus they should feel compassion and empathy towards immigrants and slaves.
Unfortunately I have met even first generation refugees, who seem bitter, that refugees, who today seek asylum, all have smartphones, and they get government support. As they, when they came 60 years ago, they had only 15 dollars in their pocket and all belongings in a carboard suitcase. They didn’t get a penny from anyone, but had to start working right away to support themselves and their families. Although there is a difference between refugees of today and of yesterday, one would hope to hear sympathizing comments about people in the same situation.
Mary and Joseph are a good example of people who bear the adversities, without loosing their trust to the Lord. And for some reason, believers who have endured a lot - even persecutions - have easier to keep their faith than the ones than the ones, whose life has been a bed of roses.
I don’t know, I am always hesitant to explain other peoples suffering, but maybe – just maybe Joseph and especially Mary needed this kind of coaching because they needed a lot of trust and faith for the future events that would become for them to bear. Especially I am thinking of the cross on Golgotha and the crucifixion. For a mother to be able to bear this image even for just a three-day’s time might be impossible to tolerate without a steady trust, that there is a purpose and meaning even in the darkest moments of life.