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.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
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. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through 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.’
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph 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. 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. 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.’ (NRSV).
Our passage does more than tell the story of Jesus’ early years. Although we are led through the events and movements of Jesus and his family there is much more going on her than a move to Egypt and back.
Jesus, this new-born child, has attracted serious opposition. We have previously been informed of the widespread uncertainty inspired by the magi’s question: ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ (Matthew 2:2). Their inquiry sparked the fear of ‘King Herod…and all Jerusalem with him.’ (Matthew 2:3).
Clearly this terror has not subsided. If the killing of children ‘two years old and under’ indicates the time frame since meeting the magi, Herod’s fury has been brewing for some time. His is the response of a power-crazed mad-man who is obsessed with his throne.
But even though he fills the tiny town of Bethlehem with his unimaginable horror – a loss barely glimpsed in Jeremiah’s lament – he is paranoia is driving him to fight much more than a child.
Herod is fighting God.
Of course, this is difficult for Herod to see. God is guiding an unknown couple and their baby son through undetectable dreams that Matthew sees as the fulfillment of ancient cryptic prophecy. Heartless armies will never be able to successfully oppose the gently blowing wind of God.
Of course Herod’s wrath is not limitless. He looks all powerful but our passage contains both his predicted and actual death. His rage ceases with his life and this becomes the cue for the guiding angel. Only now does this messenger ‘suddenly’ appear ‘to Joseph in Egypt’.
It all leads to Nazareth – a small fringe town in Israel.
The God of the margins is intervening to save the world. But this God is not changing tact. As always, this is the one whose movement is comparable to the untameable wind – the very breath of God.