Sunday, January 5, 2014
On Baby Boys Forgotten
Today's Gospel in the Revised Common Lectionary was Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23. For practical reasons (usually) it is necessary to make those sorts of editorial decisions. A "comma" is a tiny little thing. Because it is so small, and we sometimes fail to observe details, we might miss it. Those three verses, 16, 17, 18 weren't even missed when I read the lection. Yet they reveal a part of the Christmas story which might be called foreshadowing.
The missing verses tell us Herod was tricked by the Magi, who, having been warned in a dream not to return and reveal the whereabouts of the new born king, had skittered out of town by another route. Herod decides to take matters into his own hands. So he dispatches some soldiers to the smallish village, population between 300 & 1000. How many children would have been there, under two? And of that how many were boys? It is hard to know, perhaps a dozen or so. Whatever the actual count, perhaps the greater tragedy of the story is that it is not recorded elsewhere. Some question the historicity of the event ( a worthy topic of discussion but not something I will deal with today), though everyone seems to agree that Herod was a cruel man and certainly would have been more than willing to kill innocent children to secure his throne. The lost babies, loved by their mommas and mourned by their families, have long since served as a type of all victims of political abuse of power. Their absence from the pages of history serve as a reminder that God sees what the powerful of the world ignore, God remembers what the world forgets.
Perhaps some of us feel akin to those baby boys? Perhaps we see our own lives lived under the abusive power of another. Maybe we feel that there are powers at work which do not see us, take no account of us. Perhaps we wait in vain for someone to notice that we are here, for someone to care. Certainly all of us have felt invisible and unimportant…
The truth is life on the earth is full of such stories. Endless parades of children are wiped out each day by the choices and decisions of those in power. Supplies sent overseas to feed the hungry rot in the port while warlords battle to take control of the little pieces of war ravaged land. And the children die without faces or names.
Sometimes, though, there is a rescue. Sometimes God gets impatient, He intervenes and breaks His own rules. His hand reaches into our world, His word is spoken among us.
"Flee!" Take your wife and the boy and go.... There is danger approaching.
Matthew does not entertain the question, "Why does God not warn everyone?" Really, can such a question be answered?
Perhaps it is helpful to ponder, however, for the sake of those who find it scadalous. What if God did intervene? What if God had sent an army to rescue those boys? What if He had provided angel hosts and slain those bloodthirsty murderers. And having done that, what if God continued to intervene, creating a just society where the poor and needy are rescued from the powerful and evil. What if?
Where would we be numbered? Who accuses us before God of being abusive? Who thinks you and I have oppressed? Do third world people see us as innocent?
God's judgment will come, but it is not yet. For now, He limits Himself to a singular escape. His Son, Jesus. But be sure of this, it is a temporary reprieve. A son of Herod, his namesake, will be king when Jesus is brought to trial. Jesus will die under the harsh boot of the Empire, supported by the Idumean (false) king.
The story of Jesus is a recapitulation of the story of the Jews. God's people in exile are called forth, even as Jesus is called out of Egypt in fulfillment of their story. The powers of the world conspire against God and against His anointed. And God (mostly) bides His time. The why of it all unknown to us, who trust Him nonetheless.
So Jesus flees to Egypt, as His people have before Him. And God calls out His Son from the exile, even as Rachel weeps for the ones who were slain. And one day Jesus goes to the land of the dead, the abode called Hades. He gathers those children in His arms. He kisses and blesses them, who died for His sake, even as He suffered and died for theirs. And on that day Rachel will weep no more, for her children shall live. And you and I will suffer no more, will wait no more, for the deliverance of God.
It is our faith which sustains us even as the Herods of the world do their mischief (always remembering that some days we are aligned with Herod, other days Mary and Joseph.). It is the faith which inspires us to not be enlisted as one of his henchmen. And all of it, is hidden away from view, in that comma...