Gospel (Cycle A): Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Change After the Holidays
Do you look forward to the end of the Christmas season? Why?
The end of the holidays. For some, this time means relief and letdown. For others, it means a time of uncertainty and loneliness. Our individual feelings might be fixed. Certainly, the season after the holidays marks a change in mood and schedule.
Sometimes, however stressful events like the holidays can have lasting effects. Situations can spin out of control. Or, conditions can drastically change. Consider the life of the Holy Family after the birth of Jesus as an example of life changed.
13 After the Wise Men left, Joseph saw God's angel in a dream. "Get up! Take the boy and his mother out of here! Escape to Egypt!" the angel said. " And stay there until I tell you to return. King Herod is out to kill the boy!" 14 Joseph got out of bed. During the night, he left with the boy and his mother for Egypt. 15 Joseph remained there until Herod died. This way, God's word through the prophet came true: "I called my son out of Egypt."
19 After Herod died, Joseph saw God's angel in another dream. "Get up. Take the boy and his mother home to Israel," the angel said. "The people who wanted to kill the boy are dead." 21 Joseph got up and took them back to Israel. 21 But, when he heard Archelaus was king after his father Herod died, Joseph was afraid to go there. 22 After he was warned in a dream, Joseph left for Galilee. 23 He settle his family in a village called Nazareth. This was God's word through the prophet came true: "He will be called a Nazarene."
With the use of men's evil, Matthew viewed the life and movement of a young family as God's will. A dream, a forced move, and a return all pointed to the identity and destiny of a young Jesus.
13 After (the Magi) left, Look! an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, "Rising up, take the CHILD and his mother. Escape to Egypt. Remain until I say (otherwise). For Herod is about to seek the CHILD to destroy HIM. 14 Having risen (out of bed), he took the CHILD and his mother at night and left for Egypt. 15 He was there until Herod's death, so that the (word) spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, "I called my son out of Egypt."
19 After Herod died, Look! an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, "Rising up, take the CHILD and his mother. Go into the land of Israel. For the ones seeking the life of the CHILD have died." 21 Having risen (out of bed), he took the CHILD and his mother and went into the land of Israel. 22 Having heard Archelaus was king of Judea in place of his father Herod, he feared to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 Having arrived, he settled in a city called Nazareth, so the word spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: "HE will be called a Nazarene."
2:15 "Herod's death" is literally "the end of Herod."
"I called my son out of Egypt." is from Hosea 11:1. The prophet referred collectively to the nation of Israel in the Exodus. In addition, Egypt was a place of refuge for Israelites even before the Babylonian exile. In the time of Jesus, a large population of Jews lived in Alexandria and the area along the Nile.
2:22 Herod Archelaus was the son of Herod the Great. He ruled Judea from the death of his father (4 B.C.) to his removal by the Romans for gross incompetence (6 A.D.).
2:23 "HE will be called a Nazarene." No reference exists for this verse. Matthew could have made a play on words here. A "nazir" was a Hebrew term for a holy person consecrated to God. Isaiah 11:1 called a future Davidic king a "nazir."
In a stylistic fashion, Matthew explained how Jesus moved from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Matthew was not concerned so much with geographic relocation, but theological relocation. For Matthew, the Hebrew Scriptures foretold the movement of the Messiah. Even his backwater hamlet had theological significance. For Matthew, the name "Jesus of Nazareth" pointed to the identity of the Christ.
Matthew 2:13-23 connected the revelation of baby Jesus as the Messiah (to the Magi) with the beginning of his adult ministry (the appearance of John the Baptist). The scene opened with the dream of Joseph and the command to relocate in Egypt. The missing verses (2:16-18) refer to the death of the innocent children at the hands of Herod. The final scene described the move to settle in Galilee. Each of the three sections had a common thread: a scripture was fulfilled.
The opening and closing scenes also had parallels: 1) the appearance of the angel in Joseph's dream, 2) Joseph's response, and 3) a quote from Scripture. The angel presented God's message to a righteous man. Joseph, husband to Mary, received the message and moved, just like his famous name's sake. Joseph, the son of Jacob, entered Egypt under force and rose to prominence with his ability to interpret dreams. His remains returned with the people in the Exodus. In 2:15, Matthew quoted Isaiah 11:1: a "son" that referred to Joseph's spiritual progeny, the people of Israel. Thus, Matthew connected Jesus to the Exodus as the one who would represent the people, and foreshadowed his personal exodus for Israel on the cross.
The quote in 2:23 presented some problems, however. As mentioned in the notes above, no such verse existed in the Hebrew scriptures. Possibly, Matthew had a word play in mind between the town "Nazareth" and the Hebrew word "nazir," meaning "concentrated to God." Samuel (1 Samuel 1) was the prime example of a nazir, one whose life was given to God from birth.
Other themes foreshadowed the ministry and life of Jesus. As the family lived on the move, so did Jesus in his adult ministry. Just as the family faced the threat of violence, so did Jesus in his visit to Jerusalem. This mobility and life under threat were God's will, just as the angel revealed and Scripture confirmed.
God revealed a life of pressure to the Holy Family. Have your post-Christmas experiences been pressured? Have they taken a downturn? How can they be God's will?
While our post-holiday downturns may not be a traumatic as the upheaval the Holy Family suffered, we can still sense some of their anxiety. And, we can have hope that our downturns, like theirs, have a place in God's plan. If Joseph can hear God's voice even in his sleep, why can't we catch wind of God's will? Don't God's angels serve us as much as a Jewish carpenter, so long ago?
Review the holidays. Place the joys and sorrows of the holidays before the Lord. How do you see God working with you this past season. How is he working with you now?