Friday, December 31, 2021
Katie Snipes Lancaster
2:19–23 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord 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 trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Reflection on the Nativity
The reign of terror was over, and everyone could breathe a sigh of relief when Herod died. Of course the death of one tyrant never means the end of tyranny. There is always the possibility of oppression, violence, hatred., and fear mongering, rearing its ugly head in and among the ranks of humankind. But at least this time Joseph can, with divine-awakened confidence, bring his wife and child out of Egypt. Jesus’ life is no longer under threat at least for now. But wait. We get to verse twenty-two and hear that the new ruler will be Archelaus, Herod’s son. Maybe it’s not safe after all. Joseph has yet another dream and heads to Galilee where they settle in Nazareth.
The writer of Matthew’s gospel wants us to know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus’ presence on the scene threatens the powers-that-be. Not just Herod, but also his son and successor, is afraid of the potential power of what has been said of this child born in Bethlehem. Read the rest of the gospel of Matthew and watch for the way kings and rulers respond to Jesus throughout Matthew’s retelling (it is about 18,000 words long, so it might take you an hour to finish).
In her commentary on the gospel of Matthew, Anna Case Winters suggests that what we’ve seen in the nativity will run throughout the rest of the story, “privileging the powerless, conflict with the elite authorities, an openness to the Gentiles, and Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and prophets. As it was with the Wise Men and the obedient Mary and Joseph so it will be with the rest of the story, faithful people who stand at the margins—strangers, foreigners, common folk—will be the ones who follow Jesus and receive God’s blessing.”
In that sense I am reminded that we too have the potential to center strangers, foreigners, and common folk in our prayer. If God places those who are marginalized at the center of the story, then we can and should center the marginalized in the stories of our own lives as well, not just as we pray, but as we seek to live out the love of God in our own lives. The nativity of Jesus ultimately pushes us from prayer to action, from meditation to unmerited generosity, kindness, compassion, and mercy. I would contend that we cannot have action without prayer, or generosity without meditation—we need the personal, prophetic, and communal places where we can connect with God—but it cannot be all prayer or all meditation. Our seeking God leads us toward acting out God’s love. Our prayer pushes us to be God’s hands and feet in the world. May we be caught in the sacred circle in which prayer leads to action and action leads to prayer.
Praying the Nativity
God, set your prayer within us,
and put our feet on the path of peace.
Plant within us the desire to shower others with
unmerited generosity, kindness, compassion, and mercy
just as you do for us.