Summary: One of the greatest tragedies in the Bible is the killing of the innocents. As terrible as the story is, though, it does show us how God moves in the middle of tragedies and injustices.
Matthew 2:13-23 “God’s Guiding Hand”
While we were celebrating the gift of Jesus with our family and friends, a lot was going on around the world. Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan causing the country to more social and political upheaval. Several of our troops were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq leaving grieving families. A family of six was murdered on Christmas Day by an unappreciated daughter and her boy friend, and a seventeen year-old boy was mauled and killed by a tiger at the San Francisco zoo. There is so much suffering in the world, and so many times when evil seems to be conquering good, that we are tempted to wonder where God is in all of this. Is God content to coo and gurgle in a lowly manger in Bethlehem?
One of the most difficult topics for us to understand is God and suffering. For many, this is the obstacle to their placing their faith in Jesus Christ. The argument goes, “If God is a gracious and loving God, then why doesn’t God stop all the pain and suffering? It would appear that God is either a heartless and uncaring God, or an impotent God. Neither of these gods inspires worship and devotion.
We, as Christians, may not give up our faith, but neither are we satisfied with cliché “God’s ways are not our ways.” We struggle to understand God’s relationship to human suffering. The gospel text today will not answer our “Why?” question, but it does reveal to us some important truths about God’s activity in suffering that are important for us to remember as we confront evil and suffering in our daily lives.
THE FORCES OF EVIL
The gospel for today contains one of the most tragic events in the Bible. The magi offer their gifts to Jesus. They are not duped by Herod’s request to know where the King of the Jews is so the he may worship the new born king, however. They return to their country via a different trade route and avoid Herod. A furious Herod, fearing for his throne, orders all of the male children in Bethlehem and the surrounding countryside who are two years-old and younger to be executed. The Roman cohorts carry out Herod’s command with blood-chilling efficiency.
One of the first lessons that we learn from this passage of Scripture is that suffering is not God induced. The cause of the suffering and grieving that are contained in these few verses was the brokenness of humankind—one man, really, and his self-centered obsession with power.
A vast majority of suffering in the world is caused by humankind. We are a broken people, with the ability to use our gifts for either good or evil—and often we chose evil.
We can affirm that God could intervene and squash the plans of evil men and women, but it seems that God prefers to empower his people to stand against evil, and fight against injustice.
• Christians marched against the social forces that promoted racism in the 1960’s. More recently Christians from around the world called on their governments to pressure South Africa to end apartide.
• In response to broken relationships and abusive spouses, Christians and others responded and created shelters to aid the victims and care for them.
• Whether for or against immigration, Christians have responded to human need to provided water stations to help aliens survive the harsh Arizona desert.
In the middle of grief and suffering God was moving, in this story. An angel appeared to Joseph directing him to flee to Egypt so that the child, Jesus, would be protected from the evil intentions of Herod.
We learn that God does not desert us in tragedies. Paul was not spouting some theological theory when he declared that there is absolutely nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is fact.
God is present with us in the midst of tragedies, grief and suffering. God is also moving within us to give us strength. It was a daunting task to follow the directions of the angel and flee to Egypt. Egypt was many days journey away. In addition to the journey itself, there was the separation from family, and the challenge of establishing a new life in a foreign country.
Along with presence and strength, God was also providing guidance. The way was often confusing for Joseph as he tried to protect and care for his little family. Questions flooded his mind. Still, God’s hand was upon him and guided him in the decisions that he made.
Against the forces of evil, God’s will was being established. Herod could not kill the Christ child. Herod could not divert Jesus from his path to the cross.