Advent is the time of year where we contemplate the hope, love, joy, and peace offered to us in the Christ child. Yet, every year the Sunday after Christmas we hear this horrifying tale of the killing of the innocence which initiated Jesus, Joseph, and Mary’s flight to Egypt seeking safety from those who would harm this innocent baby. My question has always been why now? Why destroy such a good feeling and fellowship based in the birth of Christ with this story? What is the meaning behind such a passage?
Now some might say that this passage was meant to bring future generations to an understanding of the violent and hateful world that Christ as to be raised in and was to fulfill his ministry in. But I believe that it goes much deeper than that. I believe that it is about the journey from exile to the cross; it is about the new beginnings and the changes that were to take place.
Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great who was a very unstable, violent, and frightening figure in history. As you may already know, he was known to have killed off his own children for fear that they wanted his thrown and he certainly had no problem killing off a whole generation of boys to prevent one of them from seeking to overthrow his power.
Herod had already spoken to the wise men and already made inquiries of the astronomers who read the stars and knew the timing of the birth of the rightful heir to the throne. The individual who had legitimate ties to the line of David and would have easily recognized by the people in his place. This would have been of grave concern to Herod’s fragile ego leading to the violence that so many people would experience in response. Herod’s actions plunged a whole city into sorrow and despair. It forced many families into what may have been the darkest time of their lives.
Yes that first Christmas Eve brought joy into the hearts of many families who welcomed with joy the birth of their sons but it also brought fear, hate, and unfathomable pain. Their joy was a bittersweet one much like that of the generation that Moses was born. And so I find it fitting that it was in the land that saw the death of an entire generation of Hebrews that Jesus found peace, where Jesus found life in his first few years. It was there that he would be nurtured in a land that honored education, religion, and culture under the Ptolemaic Dynasty. It was from that land that Jesus would journey to Israel to offer freedom in the land of milk and honey as Moses did so many generations earlier. Except this time Jesus offered freedom to those who were shackled by the judgments of humanity and the darkness of the world around them. He offered salvation, shalom, hope to a nation in great pain. And he still offers this to us this day.
Jesus came to offer new life to a people in need and freedom from the traditions that held people back from truly experiencing the restorative life offered to all by God. He offered all peoples who came seeking new life. A life not based in the actions of others but a life based in the love of a God who gathers all his people to him. Jesus did not come to over throw the Herodian ruling class or the Roman Empire. This was not the type of Savior that God felt the world needed. He came to free the souls of humanity from the powers of this world that keep us from his light.
This day we too are being offered something new in Christ. We are being offered a new way of looking at faith, religion, and God in a world that so desperately needs to feel God once more. We live in a nation where children are going to school hungry every day. We live in a world where tyrannical governments keep people in poverty. We live in a world where churches, once holy places of worship, are the sites of mass shootings. We live in a world where violence has caused enough fear to darken the lives of many people. We need to hear God say “I have not forgotten you. Have hope for I am creating something new”.
So yes every year we read this story that perhaps may remind you of the horrific things going on all around our world today. But we also hear this story and remember the hope, the healing, the peace that Christ would offer to many of these same people. He would reach out and show the world that no matter how bad things seem to get that God is there to create new life where humanity tries to destroy.
God is there working inside each one of us creating new life, a life that can see the light of God and allow for it to break down the barriers inside of us encouraging us to go forth and bring peace and comfort to those in need. God creates in us so we can go forth and create a new world for our children and grandchildren. So we can actively work to bring around a world that loves instead of hates and builds up instead of tearing down. We should remember the hope given to us by others who have worked to bring God’s love to life like Nelson Mandela who said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate. They can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite”. It is up to us believe the goodness that God creates in everyone.
So go forth and grasp a hold of the new life offered to you this day and share its light and message with the world through your care, your words, and your actions. So this morning I leave you with the words of the Psalmist to inspire your hearts to hope, love, and towards working for God’s great peace. “God gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds”.
 Nelsen Mandela, 20th century.
 Psalm 147: 2-3, NRSV.
(based on Psalm 147 and Matthew 2: 13-23)