Summary: In studying the slaughter of the innocents we can learn how to deal with the Herods of our life.
1st Sunday after Christmas
Matthew 2:13-23 Dealing with your Herod
Another year is quickly drawing to a close. The holiday season is just about over. The gifts have been opened, the food has been devoured. Now what are we faced with?
The hectic pace of the holiday season can leave us longing for a break. It can also leave us with a sense of sadness. As I mentioned last week, many people struggle with the post-holiday-blahs.
I wonder if Mary and Joseph felt some of those same things. After all the excitement of the shepherds and Magi, those things are probably distant memories for Mary and Joseph. Now they can set about the task of raising a family, and making a living; or so they thought.
And, here we are, the Sunday after Christmas, and once again the lectionary presents us with this strange story from Matthew. The text is commonly called “the slaughter of the innocents.” We don’t usually tell or hear this part of the Christmas story. For the first years of my ministry I sometimes referred to it, but never actually preached on it, even though at least once every three years the lectionary presents it to us here on the first Sunday after Christmas. After all who wants to hear a sermon on killing babies?
I’m a little ashamed of that, but I also take some comfort in the fact that I’m not alone. I’ve never seen this part of the story on a Christmas card, or heard it sung in a Christmas carol, or seen it acted out in a Christmas pageant. Oh, we do sing and tell about the wise men’s coming — we act that out. But we always cut the story short. We do not include this episode, even though what happens here is the direct result, the direct consequence of the wise men’s visit. But we leave this out!
Can you imagine what it’d be like if I insisted on including it in the children’s pageant? For goodness sake! It’s too harsh! Too gory! Dead babies and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as refugees running for their lives! Not part of our pretty holiday picture is it?
But here they are. Right here in Matthew’s telling of the tale. And those who protest the violence are right: there’s no more gory, bloody, violent scene in the entire New Testament, unless it’s the crucifixion itself. “The slaughter of the innocent.” “The flight to Egypt.” What are we to make of this part of the tale? Why did Matthew include it in his story. Luke left it out, after all!
As we get into this scripture lesson we notice God didn’t allow the holy family to live a peaceful and quiet life in Bethlehem for very long. Things couldn’t be peaceful and quiet, because the baby they were raising was the very Son of God, the Savior of the world. Satan would try to get rid of the Savior using whatever means possible. So Mary and Joseph would have to be placed into God’s “witness protection program” for a little while. Eventually, they would move back to their small hometown up north after things settled down. There was no time for Mary and Joseph to get comfortable in Bethlehem.