Thursday, December 30, 2021
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Matthew 2:13–18 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
Reflection on the Nativity
Another dream. This time from Joseph. And it’s scripted. We get the words Joseph heard in his dream. We get details: he was visited by an angel of the Lord. We get action: Get up. Take them. Escape. Stay there. We get a reason; Herod is deadly, searching for the child. It is a terrifying dream indeed. A nightmare. Lifesaving but scary. I wouldn’t need to be told twice especially because Joseph is just starting to get it; his dreams have real consequences. Last time Joseph had a dream, it came true too. And he’s starting to understand that there’s something larger-than-himself happening here; this child’s life has meaning beyond their own family. In that way Joseph is starting to understand that the king might really threaten the life of this child. So Joseph follows the dream and finds his way to Egypt. Good thing the Magi had just come along with a gift of gold. I’m sure they needed to use at least some of those funds to make that 500 mile journey.
What follows is one of the most harrowing scripture passages. King Herod is furious that the Magi did not return to him ferreting news of the child born in Bethlehem. Now he knows that all that the Magi said was true; the star they saw in the sky did signal that a powerful king had been born, and King Herod would not be outwitted, nor would he consign himself to being second fiddle to a child-king. In anger (and fear) he orders his soldiers to go through Bethlehem, and surrounding territories, and kill all the infants and toddlers.
There is relief that Jesus makes it safely to Egypt, but a deep unsettling feeling as we hear that Jesus’ safety did not mean safety for all. Even today we live in the reality of this King-Herod world, where our trust in God’s vision of love, justice, and peace does not ensure our own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of others. Opening the newspaper or studying recent world (or local) history can be just as unsettling. We like Rachel, weep. That’s all there is to do. We weep and refuse to be comforted. There is no comfort to be had.
The great joy of the incarnation is met with the realities of the great sorrows of the world. And when it comes to prayer, it offers us a reminder that lament—raw, unadorned grief, even yelling-screaming-cursing-grief—is a prayerful response to God. We are not required to pray only prayers of gratitude or thanksgiving. We are allowed to fall down crying, unable to be comforted. At times even the comforting presence of God is no comfort. In a culture that wants linear stories of grief-to-joy, this part of the nativity offers us permission to join Rachel in undisguised weeping and mourning.
Praying the Nativity
God of Bethlehem,
God of Ramah,
when we are unsettled,
when we are raw,
when we refuse to be comforted,
hear our prayer.