“Now after they [the Wise Men] 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.” (Matthew 2:13)
When I was a young child grow up, and growing up in the faith, one of my favorite parts of the story was when the Wise Men came. When I set up the nativity scene (even as a adult) I decided each year where I would place the Wise Men. Sometimes right next to the manager and other times some ways off, as if they were not sure they were in the right place and if they should disturb the “tableau”. I have heard of a tradition that the Wise Men are placed in another part of the room and each day towards Christmas they “journey” towards the manager. I love also the Christmas hymn “We Three Kings of Orient are.” In the church I grew up in, there were a number of good male singers and I looked forward to that part of the Christmas worship service. I also like that the Christmas season can be extended when the nativity story says the Wise Men came later.
“Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and 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.” (Verses 14 – 15)
Men can feel strongly about carrying out a parental role despite the fact that it is not their biological children that are in need of care. In this way mothers are not different than fathers in protecting the young and vulnerable. As I child I liked that Joseph protected baby Jesus, and as an adult I appreciate the fact that Joseph must have known Mary was deeply attached her to child and did not see Jesus as a Divine baby but as her offspring and flesh of her flesh. But as both child and adult I am saddened that Jesus’ birth was the catalyst for the death of so many innocents.
“When 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. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “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.” (Verses 16 – 18)
The nativity story, beloved reader, is not just fresh hay in a manager and shepherds being called in from peaceably tending their sheep. The birth of Jesus was a messy and painful event that burst into the history of the called and chosen people. Wasn’t the Messiah, they may have thought, to come as a conquering hero to liberate the faithful? What was a “mere” baby supposed to do?
“When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“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.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But 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. There 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.” (Verses 19 – 23)
We have been talking for some time about reassurance. When we lay down the ground work of peace, hope, and joy – what we find is a sense of reassurance that all will be well. And while I may bristle a little at simple declarations from prophets major and minor being turned to prophecy, it is reassuring to know that some aspect of Jesus the Messiah’s coming was foreknowledge in the minds of some. Or more correctly, that what had been said in the past became a bridge to the present – that is, Jesus’ time on earth. While the called and chosen people of God may have had a very rough time of it, the sense that the Divine had something good in store and waiting for them is reassuring. Or at least it would be if there was not the nagging sense the past was recast to fit what happened in Jesus’ life.
However, the Lord God did protect baby Jesus. While the Lord God might have sent Jesus into the world as a helpless baby, the Divine did not leave things to chance. Joseph was directed and guided in watching over his adopted son. And Mary was given the strength and wherewithal to guide Jesus from infancy to young adulthood. The Lord God nurtured Jesus through earthly means so that Jesus could bring us into relationship with the Divine. So through Jesus, the Divine was setting up a way to nurture us. Have you, beloved reader, not had people in your life who have nurtured your faith? Has not the Divine set before you a path to get you from where you were to where are today?
Back to my question from earlier, “What was a “mere” baby supposed to do?” Well, baby Jesus did not do much. But he was a model of growing into faith. He did not do it alone, however. His parents did what their faith dictated in raising him up. While Jesus would probably have grown up to be the Messiah anyway, the Lord God picked parents that would be model and exemplars of Christian nurtures.
The growth and development of Jesus tells us and shows us it is okay to start out small and undeveloped in faith. That as Paul says, we go from drinking spiritual milk to chewing spiritual meat. There is questioning and learning of faith (Jesus in the temple as an adolescent boy), accepting faith and the new way of living (Jesus being baptized) and being strengthened and refined in faith (Jesus being tempted in the wilderness).
There is still more to come in the story of Jesus’ infancy. And more to discover in that story. But let us rest for now, and that about what we have learned so far. Selah & Shalom!