The Bad News in the Good News

A conversation about the text

December 26, 2010

Matt 2:13-23

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly 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 seeking the child’s life are dead.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.  There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Today we outsourced the sermon to the congregation. After we read the text, we turned to our neighbors and talked about what we noticed in the text today. It was a great conversation. Here are some of the highlights.

I started by sharing something my Aunt Gail told me. “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” How does that change our reading of this text?

–A number of people were struck by the fact that even in the midst of the Good News, we have really horrible and awful news. The murder of the innocent children made us want to hold tight to those we love. But it also is a story filled with hope and divine guidance. Even in the midst of the violence and intrigue in the world, God is faithful.

–One group wanted to write another version of this story, where the children don’t get murdered and where God came down out of the clouds to smite Herod. They said they wanted to do this in the world today too.

–We had an interesting conversation about Joseph and his role as prophet. In addition to the first dream he has where the angel tells him to marry Mary, he had 3 dreams in this passage and listened to all of them. Many of us thought that our lives were pretty comfortable and we wouldn’t really want to pick up and move because of a dream.

–People asked how far they had to travel from Bethlehem to Egypt and I guessed it was 150 or more miles. Whether Jesus was a baby or a toddler, we decided that traveling that far with a small child was no small feat.

–We talked about the difference in Matthew’s and Luke’s account of the birth and noticed how easy it is to conflate the two stories.

–One group noticed that Joseph and Mary might not have received a warm welcome on their return from Egypt. If all of the other children had been murdered by Herod, then how would people treat the child who lived? And did they know that he was the reason that their kids were killed? Maybe that’s why they moved to Nazareth.

Then we talked about what it means for us that Jesus and his parents were refugees. We had some refugees in the congregation–people who had escaped from the violence in the Congo. We talked about how difficult it is to go to a different country, where people speak different languages and have different cultural practices.

How can we be welcoming to people who, like the holy family, are refugees today?

One person commented that perhaps there was hope for refugees today who knew that God had lived as they are living.

The woman from the Congo said she thought her family, and refugees today, have it better than Jesus and his family did. Even though 7 members of her immediate family have died in the Congo this past year because of violence and disease, she proclaimed that the welcome she and 3 of her children have received in the States was so great that they were ever thankful. (To those of us who have no idea what it means to be a refugee–how’s that for perspective?!)

It was hard for most of us to relate to being refugees. Someone tried to equate it to moving. While moving can be dislocating and difficult, I don’t really think it is equivalent to having to leave your home in the middle of the night with nothing, not knowing where you’re going to end up.

It was a great conversation and I’m thankful to have heard the Word preached by the congregation today. Merry Christmas–go tell the ones you love that you love them.


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