In an obscure feeding trough in the small town of Bethlehem there lay the Christ-child, a target of genocidal soldiers, yet protected by angels and the love of his Heavenly Father, as well as Mary and Joseph. Although the angels rejoiced, the shepherds marveled, and the magi gave gifts in their wonder, this child and his vulnerable family soon would be thrust into exile. We easily pass over this part of the story. We read of the announcements, the birth, the celebrations, but in our hurry to open our presents and conduct our holiday traditions, we gloss over the terror which visited the city of David at the order of Herod. Driven mad by political machinations and the desire to retain his power, the King commanded the deaths of all boys two and younger in the House of David, a declaration made more simple to achieve by the census decreed by Caesar, which required men to return to their ancestral lands with their families in tow.
But God was several steps ahead of the evil perpetrators of this horror. The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, warning him to leave the town with Mary and Jesus and make for Egypt, remaining there until he received further word to return home.
So was the manger scene a silent night? Not really. Holy night? Absolutely. All is calm? Sure, if you think that uncultured shepherds just in from the fields, angels above singing songs of joy, and a caravan of magi wanting a view of the child is the stuff of calmness. Not to mention the likely stable animals jousting for feed here and there. But bright? Oh yes. Heavens eyes attended to that scene in the manger. And the star (or some configuration of stars) in the heavens shone down on them, having led the magi directly to them.
But when the shepherds went back to their fields, when the angels ascended back into heaven of dispatched to their tasks at the command of God, when the magi took their leave, there remained a young family far from their home, exhausted from their journey, the rigors of child-bearing, and the unexpected attention of the aforementioned well-wishers, now asleep together. Until the visitation of the angel to Joseph in his dream.
Exile. The home he had built for his family in Nazareth would have to wait for a long while. Until God had dealt with Herod. As Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus and their few earthly possessions, as well as the gifts brought by the magi, in tow, I wonder: did they hear the screams of horror from children being slain? From mothers trying to protect their babies? From fathers fighting back, only to be struck down by the sword of Herod’s hatred? Did they perceive the significance that it was this child, their child, the Christ-child, who was the target of Herod’s death squads?
If ever the people of Israel needed a savior, it was then. Yet, all of that was in motion already in the person of Jesus. He would not, as Herod feared, rise up to be a political Messiah, waging war on competitors for the throne. Instead, he would rise up into maturity just as he came as a child, with completely unanticipated humility, coming to die, rather than to conquer. So that he might conquer sin for all time.
Indeed, he would die even for the sins of those who committed the most heinous acts of terror against the infant boys of Bethlehem as his family fled into exile. If he would do that, how can we possibly think that his sacrifice could not be sufficient to atone for our sins? How could we believe that he would not forgive us? Me? You?
What is your response? What is next for you? I suggest reading the Gospel of Matthew, especially the first few chapters. Then, the first few chapters of John. Read with an open mind and heart. Yes, both are necessary. Got questions?
Contact me. I’m listening prayerfully, asking God to reveal himself to you.
Jesus loves you.