by Tim Deveney, Director of Precious Blood Volunteers
This reading is a story that has some resonance with our lives.
Connection with the story of the Jewish people
Matthew’s account of the Holy Family’s fleeing to Egypt parallels the experience of the Jewish people in exile in Egypt, and also in Babylon.
This story is dark, and unexpectedly so. We celebrate Christmas with “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” and other hymns that talk about light, about the victory of life over death, about a savior, the Messiah. In this Gospel, it’s a family being uprooted from their home and lives to get away from a tyrant who is scared of his grip on his power being threatened. A tyrant who will do whatever it takes to preserve his rule. Herod does the unthinkable and has every male child under the age of two killed.
Sitting with those last lines of these verses talking about Rachel weeping for her children. You can feel the pain of those parents and the people who loved them. All the hope that a child brings is snuffed out at the orders of an egotistical, narcissistic, petty, jealous little man like Herod who has way too much power and at the hands of soldiers who are just following orders. If we listen closely we can hear the cries of parents who have had their children taken away from them at the US-Mexico border. We can hear the cries of mothers whose children are no more because of violence. We can hear the wailing of families in places like Syria, Yemen, and Ethiopia whose family members have been killed because of petty little people like Herod.
Listening is what we need to do, but listening for the right voices. We hear a lot of voices, and some of us like to hear our own voice! The characters in this story: Joseph, the wise men, and Herod all listen to voices. Herod is listening to the voices that tell him his power is threatened by a small child and that preserving that power is worth killing for. On the other hand, we have the Wise Men and Joseph who hear God’s voice. The Wise Men hear God’s voice by watching the signs, in this case, a star that has led them to honor a newborn king. I imagine that they don’t fully comprehend what is happening and are probably confounded that this is happening in a backwater like Bethlehem, but they are trusting in their knowledge of signs of something really important. For Joseph, like the Joseph in the Hebrew Scriptures, he hears God’s voice in a dream. As Jesuit Father James Martin notes often Joseph never says a word in the Gospels. He listens for God’s voice. He gives that space in his life to follow what God is calling him to. The voice that calls us to justice, mercy, peace, and truth. The one that calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all of our might. One of the takeaways from this is for us to silence ourselves enough to hear God’s voice amid all of the other voices in our lives. You might be surprised like the Wise Men and hear a message from God in the signs of nature, or in your dreams!