Narrative Lectionary Reflection for January 4, 2014 (Year 1)
Second Sunday of Christmas
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Josepeh in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. Matthew 2:19-21
I’ve been rereading Anne Rice’s bestselling novel Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt, a rich historical tale of Jesus’ childhood that begins with the return home to Nazareth from Egypt. Rice does a fine job with historical and biblical facts and witness, and she captures the humanness of the boy Jesus as he returns to the place and context of his family’s lineage and his growing awareness of the fact that he is no mere child. Even the psalm appointed for this week (Psalm 11:1-3) shows up in the story.
Home. There’s no place like home, or so the saying goes. This week’s story stretches from the holy family’s flight from home into Egypt to escape King Herod’s vitriol and murderous intent. Fearing the rise of an infant king, Herod then orders the slaughter of all the children in and around Bethlehem who are two years old or younger. Matthew lets us know that this unspeakable act of terror fulfills prophecy. Even so, in our hearts we feel the anguish and grief of those mothers two thousand years ago, commingling with that of mothers from every age and place across the earth. Humankind’s cruelty to even the most innocent and vulnerable knows no borders or time. Even our Lord was a refugee who fled far from home.
People still flee today, crossing borders and taking incredible risks to protect their families, to seek a better life, to find a place of safety where they may simply live without fear of war, terror, genocide, religious persecution, and crime. Home becomes both portable and a place of longing. In many cases, the life of the one who flees is forever altered, and there is no going home.
How does one take this passage from Matthew, filled with fear and with murder and with grief, and make it real and accessible today? It doesn’t take much to find instances where children face the threat of death. One can look at the Rwandan genocide, at the kidnapping and murder of women and children in Nigeria by Boko Haram, at the Central American children crossing the U.S. border, and of course the innocent children and families harmed in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. One week before Christmas (December 18), 185 women and children were kidnapped and 32 killed in a raid by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. They would identify, in ways we cannot, with the story of the holy family’s flight into Egypt.
Jesus stands in solidarity with these most vulnerable victims and refugees today. Jesus is intimately acquainted with the effects of war, genocide, and political and religious strife. He knows and hears the cries of those who suffer violence, who live in fear, and who must risk death for another day of life. Just as we know so precious little of the details of these modern refugees’ lives, there is much we do not know about our Lord’s childhood. But we can look in the faces of children today and see a glimpse of the Holy One in their eyes and hopefully look back with the compassion and mercy of our Lord. We can know with certainty that in baptism we have made a border crossing and that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. There is indeed no place like home–and in the Body of Christ we are home, both now and forever.
In Worship and/or with Older Youth
January is National Human Trafficking Month in the United States. Consider making a conscious link between today’s lesson and the perils so many women and children experience with modern slavery. January 11 is the actual day observed during this month, but today provides a good opportunity to launch an educational program in your congregation. Consider the recently released documentary, In Plain Sight, narrated and produced by singer and activist Natalie Grant for a possible screening in your location. Click here to be redirected to the website where you will find detailed information about how to host a screening, where the film is already being shown, and information about human trafficking in the United States. You’ll also find many wonderful resources, including bulletin inserts, from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Click here to be redirected to their website.
Many children will be familiar with moving because we live in a transient society. You can share with them that Jesus had to move in order for his family to be safe and that they were taken in by people in another country where they could be safe until King Herod died and they could return to their own home. Many of our own ancestors immigrated to this country from other places–some because of persecution, others because of hunger and poverty, some seeking a better opportunity. Consider inviting someone to tell the story of a family member immigrating to a new country. If you have a refugee community nearby see if you can have someone come in to talk about their experience. Remind children that no matter where we are from or where we might be going to, we all belong to God.
Here’s a link to a website where you’ll find resources for picture books, music, and more.
Photos: Ted, Freedom House, and GDK used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)