Reader: “A cry was heard in Ramah—weeping and great mourning.”
Response: “Rachel weeps for her children.”
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-18
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
After this interview, the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
In keeping with yesterday’s mindset, we come to another part of the Christmas Story that is also well known, the account of the visit of the wisemen. We have the many paintings of the nativity with wisemen, camels, shepherds, sheep, the donkey, and the holy family. Not wishing to wreck everyone’s image of the manger scene, we gently and humbly look again at the Scriptures. Once again, we are given a very specific historical date as to the time frame of the birth of our Savior. The Magi arrived in Jerusalem sometime after the birth, we just don’t know how long afterwards. King Herod, who by now was in his mid 70’s and already “disturbed,” got even more disturbed when he heard the news of the newborn king of the Jews. (Herod murdered two of his wives and three of his sons out of suspicion that they were plotting against him.) Herod was an Edomite, an offspring of Jacob’s brother, Esau, thus the Jews never accepted him since he was not from the kingly line of David, nor was he a Jew. He also had a link to the Romans and was noted for his large building projects, including the reconstruction of the Jewish Temple. Though not a Jew, he apparently knew something of the Scriptures, as the birth of a Jewish Messiah troubled him greatly. The Magi were apparently in Jerusalem long enough for Herod to call them for a private meeting as he hatched his plot. You know the next part. The star led the wisemen to the house, not a stable, where Jesus was. In those days, the animals were actually kept in the lower part of the house with the living quarters being more on a second floor. My guess is that the Magi stayed a few days. The words are “when it was time to leave.” Other than the giving of the three gifts we don’t really know what the rest of the conversations were! When you meld Luke’s account with Matthew’s, you come up with some interesting things. Eight days after Jesus’ birth, in accordance with Jewish law, Jesus was circumcised and named on the eighth day at the Temple in Jerusalem, right under Herod’s nose. And then forty days later, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus back again for the purification offering at the Temple in Jerusalem where they encountered Simeon and Anna. Sometime later they left in the middle of the night to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to kill all baby boys two years old and under.
So how does all of this play out? We may have read the above account and figured it was all over in a week or so. Not so. God’s timing and plan are different than ours. I fear he is in much less of a hurry than are we. Have you noticed that Jesus never ran anywhere? He walked. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus had a great deal of stress from the beginning and it was their first child. But their responses were always of faith and trust in God’s timing. Even in awful situations, they didn’t panic. There may be a lesson here; in the midst of tension and difficulty, rest in God’s sovereign timing, even when people are evil and crazy.
Music: “The Wexford Carol” Allison Kraus and Yo Yo Ma Tremendous!
Bonus: “Mary, Did You Know?” Vocative with Mark Lowrey, (the guy who wrote the song) DON’T MISS THIS!!!! Best setting of this I’ve ever heard. Astounding voices.
O Lord my God, perfect us in such patience that we may be in no haste to escape from toil or loneliness or suffering; yet ever in haste to serve Thee, to please Thee, and, when Thou wilt, to go home to Thy blessed Presence. Amen. ―Christina Rossetti