Readings: Isaiah 63:7-9 Matthew 2:13-23
The sun had barely set on the wondrous story of the birth of Jesus. The magi had headed home after delivering their extravagant gifts, the shepherds were still excited but back tending their sheep, Mary and Joseph had got through the first days of parenthood and were starting to breathe again. Herod was getting suspicious because the magi had not returned but gone home by another way, the little town of Bethlehem was lying still and quiet.
Enter the angel, this time to Joseph, with a sobering message. Get out of there, it is not safe, leave your short time of bliss and go – far away. You need to go to Egypt – don’t know how you will get there but you need to go – now! Herod is after your baby – to kill him. Go, go, go!
Hear the narrative in the thoughts of the holy family, from the king, from a Bethlehem mother, from Isaiah.
First from the family, from Joseph:
Mary, I am sorry to wake you but you need to get up, now! Quickly, wrap the child up warmly, try to keep him quiet if you can, we have to go. I had a dream, an angel of God warning us to flee, as far away as we can – Herod is looking for our son and will not let him live if he finds him.
I know you are recovering, I know this is a precious time of bonding for us all yet we must flee from all we know and love – become refugees, with Egypt our refuge, just like our ancestors. If we go now, maybe Herod will give up when he can’t find us, maybe Bethlehem will be safe from him. Quickly now, quietly, and we pray that the night will give us safe passage.
O, I promised them with sweet assurances.
I spilled soft words upon their ears saying nothing of my private fears.
I said to those magi: you must journey on and greet this newborn king? Then you must journey back again and bring me news, that I may also go and worship him.
I wonder what gave the game away? How did they know?
Did they guess or did they hear something in my voice?
No matter, they did not return. I had no information, nothing to show. And no address. A pity – the damage could have been less. As it was, it was a bit of a massacre.
But I had to cover myself – so the order was to kill all male children up to two years old. Might have been a few girls caught up in that but hey, that’s the harsh fact of kingship.
It’s my duty you see, I can’t let a child grow up to rival me.
And anyway, it’s only little people with little lives, and if any take a moral stand on this, I will tell them I have to think of what is best for the land. And if it means upsetting a few unimportant Hebrew parents, then so be it. What is important is that my position, my place, my power is unassailed – I’ll do whatever it takes.
From Rachel, a mother to Mary:
Your child’s coming was my child’s going, Mary;
Swift appeared the soldier band, children’s blood spilled on the sand, grief and rage convulsed the land.
Mary, was your child born that Rachel should weep forlorn?
Your child’s living was my child’s dying, Mary;
Days hang loose like cloth unshrunk, nights are haunted, in anguish sunk, breasts are pained, the milk not drunk.
Mary, was your child worth mine laid in friendless earth?
Your child’s saving was mine’s destroying, Mary;
Cherished lives are lost forever, cherished hopes have now turned sour, cherished seed will never flower.
Mary, if Jesus saves, what mean to you these graves?
From the refugees again, from Mary:
I remember every day that mad rush from Bethlehem – I know we needed to go, I know God was watching over us, I know that our young lad is precious in God’s sight – but did they have to do all that killing – I feel sick - still, guilty – still, frightened – still. Yet we are to return to Judah – Herod is dead, my Joseph says – but will it be any better? Will we live in fear still? Joseph thinks so – so we are not going back there – it is to be Galilee instead. I was so looking forward to this being over, for a while at least –but it is not to be. There will be no homecoming after all. May God be with us.
I have something to say. Well actually two things. You people of the future know how important context is – well I hope you know that the words you heard today are airlifted out of a psalm of lament – communal lament no less. You need to know that the people were down, right down. They had come back to Jerusalem from Babylon, expecting it to be the same, anticipating former glory. It wasn’t like that. It was ugly. Life is hard and exhausting. The people knew that they had not been faithful, that they had disappointed God, but thought that the coming back meant back to the old way, back to everything being sweet and lovely. It did not. It is not!
Because that is the second thing. Do you remember that in the very worst of times, God does not leave us? If I can recount the times that Jahweh has redeemed us, lifted us up and renewed us in our times of despair, then how much more can you people of the new testament understand that suffering and pain are not excluded from our lives, as you sometimes seem to want to do with the ‘wholesome’ Christmas thing. If you remember all the story, the star and the birth and the flight and the killing of the innocents, if you place the cradle alongside the cross, you will better understand that God is in all that life throws at us. As we go about living in the way of faith and mercy, memory of God’s unconditional love and saving grace, again and again helps carry us through distress and fear. And if you remember it all you will, with me, want to recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the steadfast love of the Lord, the mercy of the Lord, with loud voices and joy in your hearts. For surely we are all God’s people.
 Herod by Penny Hewlett (adapted) from Hay & Stardust p.184
 Your child’s coming was my child’s going by Ian M. Fraser from Hay & Stardust p.182