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 fulfill 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 Nazarene." -Matthew 2:13-23
About the Meditation Prompts
The very story of Christmas is dark. Mary and Joseph together, fraught in a situation full of tension, are forced to participate in a census carried on by oppressive occupiers known for cruelty, corruption, and bullying. The town is so crowded, there's no comfortable place for the pregnant girl about to deliver her child, so the couple settle for an animal's hut or cave, neither clean nor pretty. Meanwhile, the local king, a paranoid maniac, orders the massacre of all the male children under the age of two in a savage act of terror. The mother and father escape, carrying with their child the guilt of survival.
While the slaughter of the innocents may not be historically accurate, this story makes the nativity truer than the happily-ever-after fairy-tale quality that a purely happy Christmas offers. Jesus enters a real world, like ours, where children are poor, malnourished, enslaved, and poisoned by greed's numbing exploitations. Taking the Nativity story out of the grim contexts in order to make it pretty, defeats the purpose of the Incarnation.
Meditation One (introit) "the other night in Bethlehem"
*There was another night in Bethlehem. No angel chorus was heard that evening. No Gloria in excelsis. The air that night was rent with shrieks–shrieks and cries; sobs and tears. A hellish horde had done the bidding–the bidding of a paranoid devil. These thugs search –not for life– but to deal out death. And newborn babes lie bundled in grave cloths–laid to rest–cradled in fresh-turned earth. None to save them; so that the streets of Bethlehem echo–Miserere, miserere! James T. Dennison, Jr. Kerux: The Online Journal of Biblical Theology quoted from www.textweek.com
If I was made Mother of a God in order to see a God die, then forgive me, Eternal Father, Your favour is a great torment. -Unknown poet (16th century?) Il pianto di Maria
All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.
T.S. Eliot 1888-1965 The Journey of the Magi (excerpt)
Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, Adam Elsheimer, 1609
The Mother of God The three-fold terror of love: a fallen flare Through the hollow of an ear; Wings beating about the room The terror of all terrors that I bore The Heavens in my womb. Had I not found content among the shows Every common woman knows, Chimney corner, garden walk, Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes And gather all the talk? What is this flesh I purchased with my pains, This fallen star my milk sustains, This love that makes my heart's blood stop Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones And bids my hair stand up? -W.B. Yeats 1865-1939
Meditation Three (integration) letter to a tyrant
For, wherefore art thou wroth, O Herod, at being mocked of the wise men? didst thou not know that the birth was divine? didst thou not summon the chief priests? didst thou not gather together the scribes? did not they, being called, bring the prophet also with them into thy court of judgment, proclaiming these things beforehand from of old? Didst thou not see how the old things agreed with the new? Didst thou not hear that a star also ministered to these men? Didst thou not reverence the zeal of the barbarians? Didst thou not marvel at their boldness? Wast thou not horror-struck at the truth of the prophet? Didst thou not from the former things perceive the very last also? Wherefore didst thou not reason with thyself from all these things, that this event was not of the craft of the wise men, but of a Divine Power, duly dispensing all things? And even if thou wert deceived by the wise men, what is that to the young children, who have done no wrong? -John Chrysostom Homily IX on the Gospel of Matthew
The Last Word
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not. -Jeremiah 31:15
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully lullay.
O sisters, too, how may we do / for to preserve this day/ this poor youngling for whom we sing / bye-bye lully lullay?
Herod the King, in his raging charged he hath this day / his men of might, in his own sight/ all young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor child for thee! / And every morn and day / for thy parting nor say nor sing / bye-bye lully lullay. Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully lullay.