Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23
Lazy days on holiday for some; others experiencing the frenetic demands of retail sales etc; family gatherings; new beginnings for others.
Not actually the beginning of the year for the church community, that was back at the start of Advent. After all the excitement of Christmas we have a bit of a lull - an opportunity for reflection. Possibly just a tinge of `what was that all about?`
- So let us spend a couple of minutes talking with (not about) our neighbours around the Christmas you experienced.
- What about New Year resolutions? It seems to me that resolving to be better, or at least less objectionable, should be something we contemplate each morning not just an annual indulgence. What do you really want from the year ahead? What can you do to make this happen? - have another little yarn together.
- The gospel reading would have evoked a variety of images in your minds. What struck you? Anyone?
For me the immediate issue was -
The cruelty to which children can be subjected seems endless. What`s more we find it hard to try and understand how people can behave in this manner and not just in Aleppo or Nigeria, or the Sudan. Here too in civilized Australia children suffer and are exploited, as parents use their children as weapons in their own disputes.
- Nothing has changed in 2000 years - people are still fleeing persecution today, many of them from the same places.
Matthew is painting a verbal picture, one which has been the stimulus for painters throughout the following centuries.
The painting above, by He Qui, is an example of more modern religious art.
There is something quite haunting about the picture; there is an affinity here with all those who flee from trauma, or who simply seek a better future.
Leaving one`s home and family and venturing out into the unknown has always been a challenge for most of us humans. We crave the warmth of familiar faces, familiar places, familiar smells and scenes.
The sense of adventure lies deeper in some than others and drives them out to explore what lies in the unknown. We were brought up on Captain Cook and Vasco de Gama, along with Burke and Wills, possibly you recall the Kontiki Expedition; our children grew up with John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin; our grandchildren dream about exploring deep space and living on Mars.
Matthew presents a series of illusions pertaining to Moses and the slaughter of the Hebrew infants by Pharaoh; the Exodus story itself. He is saying that history repeats itself and that this Jesus is the true messiah; he has been recognized by the world`s wise - the astrologers, even kings acknowledge him and bear gifts. Creation itself recognises him hence the code in the sky. The story connects with virtually all the prophecies of the Old Testament and their ultimate fulfillment. It`s a wonderful colourful tapestry rich in symbolism and one which invites us here 2000 years later to enter into the drama.
The insecure ruler massacring children prompts much more recent memories.
Matthew describes the birth of a baby, but more pointedly the pain of his own community which was subject to invasion and proselyte governors who served their own self interest. Much of Africa and the Middle East could nod in agreement.
The jaunt down to Egypt recalls the migratory journeys of Joseph and Moses. They are a seminal part of Hebrew history. In that same sense they are a part of our own history - our forebears all made a migratory journey from Europe to this unknown frontier called Australia. Communication back `home` was by snail mail. Telephone calls were astronomically expensive. The decision to emigrate was unquestionably one of `for better or for worse` - they were here for good. You might like to talk with one another about this over morning tea.
Matthew paints a picture which encompasses prophecy fulfilled, jubilation, and the pain of life for all peoples. It`s not just about a baby, and it`s not just telling us about the past history of the adult Jesus. Its a reflection of the pain in his own community. Pain is at home in the Christmas season if Christ is not to be trivialised.
Bill Loader notes -
`The narrative invites participation, so that we, too, might kneel before the absurdity of a helpless child. O come, let us adore him! But it has to be the one defined by what he became and did, not just another typical piece of human adulation which so often amounts to giving away one`s dignity and surrendering one`s accountability.
The one who rushes to do obeisance will often be the first to oppress when the roles are reversed. Adoration is dangerous if the awe is at power and not at love.
Notice how the passage ends with reference to Herod`s son, Archelaus. Escape from Herod did not mean a happy ending. There is a refugee mentality here touched in the story, not because Jesus actually went down to Egypt, but because the life of grace must dodge between the powers. In our day we see such vulnerability in the desperation of asylum seekers and their initiatives to escape oppression and find a better life for their families, cast adrift on the seas, vulnerable to apparently well meaning politicians who are driven by other agendas and others who just want to make a fast buck. Christians who called themselves Nazarenes would also recognise their theme here, and for others the choice of Nazareth is the choice of strategic obscurity.`
It`s a story which has roots reaching back almost 5000 years, it`s a story of persecution and anguish; it`s a story of hope and joy; it`s a story of faith; our faith.