What Child Is This?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem near Jerusalem during the reign of King Herod. After Jesus’ birth a group of spiritual priests from the East came to Jerusalem and inquired of the people, “Where is the child who is born king of the Jewish people? We observed his star rising in the sky and we’ve come to bow before him in worship.”

King Herod was shaken to the core when he heard this, and not only him, but all of Jerusalem was disturbed when they heard this news. So he called a meeting of the Jewish ruling priests and religious scholars, demanding that they tell him where the promised Messiah was prophesied to be born.

“He will be born in Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,” they told him. “Because the prophecy states:

And you, little Bethlehem,
are not insignificant among the clans of Judah,
for out of you will emerge
the Shepherd-King of my people Israel!”

Then Herod secretly summoned the spiritual priests from the East to ascertain the exact time the star first appeared. And he told them, “Now go to Bethlehem and carefully look there for the child, and when you’ve found him, report to me so that I can go and bow down and worship him too.”

And so they left, and on their way to Bethlehem, suddenly the same star they had seen in the East reappeared! Amazed, they watched as it went ahead of them and stopped directly over the place where the child was. 10 And when they saw the star, they were so ecstatic that they shouted and celebrated with unrestrained joy. 11 When they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, they were overcome. Falling to the ground at his feet they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure boxes full of gifts and presented him with gold, frank-incense, and myrrh. 12 Afterward they returned to their own country by another route because God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.

They Escape to Egypt

13 After they had gone, Joseph had another dream. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Get up now and flee to Egypt. Take Mary and the little child and stay there until I tell you to leave, for Herod intends to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So that very night he got up and took Jesus and his mother and made their escape to Egypt 15 and remained there until Herod died. All of this fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through his prophet:

I summon my Son out of Egypt.

16 When Herod realized that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated. So he sent soldiers with orders to slaughter every baby boy two years old and younger in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding countryside, based on the time frame he was given from interrogating the wise men. 17 This fulfilled the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

18 I hear the screams of anguish,
weeping, and wailing in Ramah.
Rachel is weeping uncontrollably for her children.
And she refuses to be comforted,
because they are dead and gone.

They Return to Nazareth

19 After Herod died, the angel of the Lord appeared again to Joseph in a dream while he was still in Egypt, 20 saying, “Go back to the land of Israel and take the child and his mother with you, for those who sought to kill the child are dead.”

21 So he awoke and took Jesus and Mary and returned to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus, Herod’s son, had succeeded him as ruler over all of the territory of Judah, he was afraid to go back. Then he had another dream from God, warning him to avoid that region and instructing him instead to go to the province of Galilee. 23 So he settled his family in the village of Nazareth, fulfilling the prophecy that he would be known as the “Branch.”    Matthew 2:1-23 (The Passion Translation)

It had been an exciting day and the Holy Family was tired.  They made an early night of it, dreaming about the visit of the Magi.  Such gifts!  Gold (symbol of the deity of Christ.)  Frankincense (pointing to his life of holiness, perfection and devotion.)  Myrrh, an embalming spice, reminding us of his death on a cross.

Such treasures!  Whatever would they do with them?  Joseph dreamed of how much better the family could live with that much in treasure, when his dream took a sharp turn.  “Get up now!  Leave here at once.  Head for Egypt.  Herod is trying to kill the child.”

They packed quickly, not forgetting the gifts of the Magi.  As quietly as possible they slipped out the door of their little home and headed to the edge of town.  At one point they passed a soldier. Had he received his orders to kill children, yet?  They held their breath.  The looked at them, sneered and sent them on their way.  Whew, that was close.  They found their way to the highway heading to Egypt.  Providentially,  they came upon caravan of people headed that way. They slipped in, trying to keep a low profile.

Suddenly, they heard the screams and cries.  Herod’s soldiers had arrived and all the baby boys two-years-old or younger were killed then left in their parents’ arms.  Rachel weeping for her children; Rachel couldn’t be comforted.  Joseph and Mary pushed on.  They would hear those screams in their nightmares for a long, long time.

An evil, toxic king out to save his throne at any cost, even the cost of innocent children.  A young family forced to escape their home and immigrate to a foreign land.  They would encounter a different culture, new language and sneers from those who had many gods to worship, unlike those Jews!

We hear the sound of swords drawn from the soldiers’ sheaths.  We smell blood and death.  We see the immigrant caravan heading out of danger to something new.  We stand inside the beautiful palace of a king who doesn’t have to see the results of his killing orders.  He’ll only relax his guard slightly because there will always be someone else to threaten him and his throne.

The birth of one child shakes the earth to its core.  The status quo is broken.  Heartless, evil kings try to control it, but there’s no controlling God.  Herod and his son, Archelaus, only think they’re victorious.  They haven’t a clue.

Children are still innocent victims today, as they have been through the millennia.  They are separated at the borders from their immigrant parents, not understanding what they’ve done.  They sit in over-crowded classrooms, stomachs growling.  They witness violent death, holding their dead in their arms.  They are sold for labor and sex trafficking.

Why would God let this happen, we ask?  How can we let this happen?  What can we do?  The problem is too big for us.  Most of us have a passionate desire to save the children, but the scale of the work needed is insurmountable.  Herod wins again.

Or does he?

The good news is that God in Christ is constantly at work in the world:  children are being fed by many organizations within your community.  Our education system, as broken as it seems, is still working to meet these beaten and broken young people where they are and find meaningful ways to reach out.  Even going so far as to allow their teachers to march on the state’s capital for additional educational funding.

Churches reach out in countless ways to make a difference.  And how many of you, dear readers, write checks to organizations or stuff money in the Christmas Kettles?  As long as Herod is out there protecting his fragile ego with guns and whips and belts and words, there are countless others who stand up for these children and say,  “No!  What you’re doing is wrong.”

Child labor laws have been enacted.  Child protection policies are taking on new improved ways of protecting the innocent victims.  Strides are being made because a lot of “someones” spoke up.

God is at work throughout our world, calling us to fight injustice and save the children.  When we resist, it’s because we’re overwhelmed.  We’re uncomfortable and we can’t believe that people could be so cruel and callous.

The suffering of a community at the hands of Herod’s troops couldn’t match the stubborn trust of Joseph.  Loss and darkness are not the final word.  Hope remains as long as we trust in the ultimate faithfulness of God.

There are two kinds of power.  Herod lived in ivory palaces, surrounded by armies and wealth, puffing out his chest and displaying his power through violence and killing.

Jesus lived quietly in a Galilean town few people had even heard of.  He offered ministry that included all; restoration for the broken and, yes, even the puffed up; and revealed his power in love and humility.

We know that evil still exists today and tyrants still occupy thrones doling out threats and death sentences.  The innocent victims are the children.  We’ve met some of them.  Maybe we’ve even walked with them, for a short time.  We all have, I believe, and when we do we offer God’s healing and they draw on that blessing.

The job is too much for one person to take on.  When we’re all in it, in our corner of the world, making a difference, the results multiply over and over again.  And Herod finally fails.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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