Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

Matthew 2:13-23

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “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.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

All the fun and excitement of a new baby and then, we are hit with a story of Joseph leading Mary and Jesus into Egypt for fear of their lives. It feels like a bit of biblical story whiplash. We were so happy and what is this?

This lectionary text and Sunday in the Christmas season are referred to as the “slaughter of the holy innocents.” We read of Joseph obeying the angel of the Lord, who told him to flee to Egypt for Herod had become jealous of the child’s purported power. Joseph apparently did a good job fleeing in secret. Herod didn’t realize that the child was no longer in his jurisdiction. Herod also didn’t know which child in particular was the anointed one. Herod orders all children around Bethlehem that were under 2 years of age to be killed. Vulnerable folks in Bethlehem under the rule of a foreign leader killed for fear of Jesus’ power. Power that had not yet been fully revealed.

St Matthew quotes the prophet Jeremiah, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

I have not been able to tell if the Ramah in current day Syria is the same as this biblical Ramah. Even if they are not the same, they are still within close proximity to each other. Rachel is weeping and refuses consolation. I find it hard not to bring to mind the images of the children being removed from the hospital rubble in Aleppo. The mothers who weep and refuse consolation as they see power exerted over them.

The current war in Syria is an easy parallel to draw.

The children are dying. Their mothers are weeping.

But, here, in the US and in Minnesota there are also mothers weeping.

Systematic racism, sexism, poverty, complex welfare systems, complex legal systems are the ways that Herod continues to react to the fear of the vulnerable becoming powerful.

Daily, I hear the lamentations of: lack of housing, lack of jobs, lack of food, lack of help from the systems.

And Rachel refuses to be consoled.

She says, enough to the violence and the blood shed. Enough to her children being considered “less than.” Enough to the powerful’s fear of the people regaining power. She says, “enough.”

During the DNC this summer, there was a group of women who spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton. I was stunned that these women were able to be upright. You see, they are referred to as the “Mothers of the Movement.” The African American women who lost their children to violence that was sanctioned by the state. How, after losing a child to violence do you continue on?

And Rachel refuses to be consoled.

The mothers refuse to be consoled. They will not cease their cries for justice. They will not cease their work to remind the Herods that the powerful come, not as kings born in palaces, but as vulnerable babies born into families that are relegated to the margins. The power comes from the people refusing consolation. The power comes from the people who demand God’s justice, now.

And we see the people refusing.

We see the water protectors in North Dakota refusing to settle for contaminated water and broken promises. We see African American mothers refusing to accept the violence inflicted upon their children. We see the White Helmets rescuing babies in Syria.

And Rachel refuses to be consoled.

This is not the story God intends for us. We are reminded of this by a child, born to an unwed mother, fleeing with his family, healing the sick and raising the dead, and returning for certain death. God refused consolation and gave us a child to bring justice to this world. Let us refuse consolation in solidarity with God. Let us refuse Herod’s attempts at consolation and move towards the world God intends for us.

Keep hope alive, dearly beloved.

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