Reader: “This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:”
Response: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Scripture: Matthew 2:13-18
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.”
This third day in Christmastide has been observed since the fifth century in parts of the Western Church as the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a remembrance of Herod’s slaughter of the boys in Bethlehem in a desperate effort to kill Jesus. At a deeper level, Herod was used by the devil in an effort to thwart God’s plan of redemption. God had previously communicated news to Joseph regarding Mary’s pregnancy via an angel and here again an angelic visitation in a dream warns them to leave Bethlehem because the murdering king is seeking to kill their baby boy. Joseph gathers up Mary, the baby Jesus, and leaves that very night for Egypt.
After the birth of Jesus, we don’t know how long Mary and Joseph may have stayed in Bethlehem. In Luke’s account, he refers to Jesus as a baby. In Matthew’s record, he refers to Jesus as a child. It is Matthew who records the visit of the magi sometime after the birth of the Savior. There is reason to believe that Mary and Joseph may have stayed a while in Bethlehem after the census before escaping to Egypt, noting that Herod’s decree was to kill all boys under two years of age.
Herod, “king of the Jews” was hated by the Jews. He descended from the Edomites (Esau’s lineage rather than Jacob’s) which meant he was not a descendant of King David and not considered to be Jewish since the blessing fell on Jacob and not Esau. He was also despised for his collaboration with the occupying Romans. Knowing he was not accepted by the Jews meant that he was paranoid, always afraid someone would take his throne. He killed two of his wives, his brother, three of his sons, two husbands of his sister, among others, out of fear that they were plotting against him! He kept kosher law so people said it was safer to be his pig than his son!
In a similar story some 1400 years earlier, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, likewise ordered all baby Jewish boys to be killed in a kind of prefiguring of Herod’s cruelty. Moses, the redeemer of the Israelites, like Jesus, the Redeemer of all peoples, was spared to lead the people out of bondage in Egypt to freedom. Here, once again, God calls the ultimate Redeemer to lead his people out of the bondage of sin to forgiveness and freedom.
The reference to Rachel weeping for her children may seem odd and bears some comment. Jeremiah recorded (38:15) the people of Israel being led into exile passing by the village of Ramah on their way to captivity in Babylon. Ramah was right near Bethlehem. You’ll recall Jacob’s wife, Rachel, dying giving birth in Bethlehem to Benjamin, one of the twelve sons of Israel (Jacob). She was buried in Ramah. The idea is that from her grave, Rachel is weeping as the Israelites, descendants of her sons pass by her grave on the way into Babylonian captivity. But Jeremiah records that the Lord tells her they will return to the homeland in these words, “Let your voice cease from its bitter weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work . . . they will return.” (Jer.31:15-16)
Just as the Jews would return from exile to their homeland, so Jesus would return from his exile in Egypt back to Israel. Since Rachel had lived about 800 years before Jeremiah, it is interesting that Rachel is apparently still aware of what is happening on earth. But then we have Samuel coming from the grave to appear to King Saul knowing Saul’s situation, Moses and Elijah appearing at the Transfiguration to talk with Jesus about his upcoming “exodus” from earth. It would appear that, in some cases at least, people who have died are aware of what is happening on earth to some degree. This is not doctrine, just interesting! This is another example of the unity of the whole of Scripture.
Music: “Away in a Manger” Libera Angelic!
Bonus: “Away in a Manger” Home Free Beautiful video with the original 1887 tune.
Almighty God, who canst give the light that in darkness shall make us glad, the life that in gloom shall make us joy, and the peace that amidst discord shall bring us quietness, let us live this day in that light, that life, and that peace, so that we may gain the victory over those things that press us down, and over the flesh that so often encumbers us, and over death that seemeth for a moment to win the victory. Thus we, being filled with inward peace, and light, and life, may walk all the days of this our mortal life, doing our work as the business of our Father, glorifying it, because it is Thy will, knowing that what Thou givest Thou givest in love. Bestow upon us the greatest and last blessing, that we, being in Thy presence, may be like unto Thee for evermore. These things we do ask, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.205