Where was God in the massacre of the children?

Matthew 2.13-23

Luke and Matthew tell the story of Christmas in different ways.
They focus on different things.

Luke tells us that there was no room in the inn, and that Jesus was born in a stable, laid in a manger and visited by shepherds – social outcasts at the time. He wants us to know that Jesus came to bring hope to the poor and the oppressed.

Matthew shows us more of the dark side of Christmas
He tells us that Joseph was planning to divorce Mary when he learnt that she was pregnant.
And in our reading today, he speaks of the night escape to Egypt, of the slaughter of the innocents, and of the continuing threat to the life of the child Jesus.

So today we look at

1. The mystery of the purposes of God

Sometimes, after – for instance – an air disaster, you may hear the story of someone who was prevented from getting on the doomed flight. There was a hold up, beyond their control, and they got to the airport too late. And they speak of how God protected them by preventing them getting on the plane.
I’m sure that is true.
But I also wonder if there were people who did get on that plane who were not intending to fly on it, but circumstances conspired so that they did get on the flight. And as a result, they died. Of course, we don’t hear their stories.
But where was God in that?

And today we read of how an angel spoke to Joseph and Jesus was saved.
But we also read of how other children in Bethlehem were executed by Herod’s troops. They died because of Jesus. If Jesus had not been born in Bethlehem that first Christmas, they would have lived.
In some traditions they are described as the first martyrs for Christ.
Where was God in that?

And we hear stories of remarkable deliverances – some dramatic; some not so dramatic but just as real to the people involved.

Last week I received the Christmas mailing from my aunt. She is 93 and lives in Toronto Canada. She was on her own, in a large shopping centre, in a powered wheelchair. She had to get to a restaurant where it had been arranged for some transport to pick her up at a particular time to take her home – she knew it was some way away, but didn’t know where. She asked for instructions, started going but after a few minutes realised she was really lost. She says that tears were running down her cheeks and she prayed, “Lord, I’m lost and I’m scared”. Again, she writes, “I turned to my right and there approaching my power chair were 2 security guards immaculately dressed in green uniforms of smart suits that looked brand new, and oh….so smart. The lady’s hair was so attractive, and the man well groomed. It was so noticeable that I was impressed….so different to today’s fashions!” They offered to walk her to the restaurant, about 600 metres away from the shopping centre, along a route she could never have done on her own. They then disappeared, before she could say thank you.
Three months later she returned to the shopping centre.
She writes, “As I sat at lunchtime, I saw 2 security guards. I asked them, “Do you ever wear a green uniform”? “Oh no ma’am this is the only one we wear.” “Does anyone else wear a green uniform?” “I’ve worked here for years and I’ve never seen that at all.”

Whatever we may make of that, those two mysterious security guards in green were for my aunt the outworking of the promise of God when he says, “I am with you always. I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.”

And yet … There are other stories when people are lost and are not rescued, of people – believing people – who do feel that they have been abandoned.

And some of you will have lost those you love long before you should have lost them.
There is Chinese story told of three people: “There was a grandfather, a father and a son. And they all died, and they were all blessed”. “How were they blessed if they all died?” asks the listener. “They were blessed because they died in that order”.

I’ve stood with parents at the funeral of their children, with young adults at the funeral of their recently wedded wife or husband, with people dealing with long term pain and serious sickness or facing abandonment. And the not asked and sometimes asked question is, “Where is God in this?”-
And I have no answer to that. God’s purposes are mysterious. They are beyond our understanding – except for one answer.
And that is that one day, then and there, we will see and we will begin to understand.

And God protected his Son from death now, only to abandon him when he was crucified 33 years later.
Jeremiah, when he is going though a period of intense persecution and suffering, cries out and asks God why he was allowed to live. ‘Blessed’, he says, ‘would have been the man who killed me when I came out of my mothers’ womb’.
I wonder whether Jesus may have been tempted to echo that cry of despair as he hung in agony on the cross: I wonder if Jesus, no doubt having been told the story by his parents, might not have thought, ‘If only I had been killed as a baby’.
“My God, my God” cries Jesus as he hangs on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?”

If these verses make us reflect on the mystery of the purposes of God – why does God allow bad things to happen - then they also point us to where we can find an answer

2. We glimpse in these verses the hope that God gives

There are two strange quotes in these verses.

In verse 15, when Joseph takes the family into Egypt, Matthew writes and “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘out of Egypt I called my Son’.”
It is a quote from Hosea 11:1 when God is telling of how he brought Israel out of Egypt.

And in verse 17, we are told that the weeping of the mothers of Bethlehem fulfils the words of Jeremiah 31:15, when Jeremiah speaks of Rachel – she is the mother of Israel, the beloved wife of Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. And Rachel is inconsolable about the loss of her children.

Matthew is not a bad preacher who hears the word Egypt and thinks, ‘I remember a quote in the Old Testament about Egypt, so I’ll put it in here’. He knows what he is doing.
The point is that Matthew understands Jesus to be the one who completes the work of the people of Israel. He is the personification of the people of Israel.
And therefore, verses which speak of the exile and return of Israel, speak also of the exile and return of Jesus
And verses which speak of the suffering and comfort of Israel, speak also of the suffering and comfort which surrounds the life of Jesus.

Both those quotes speak of how God will save the people of Israel.
The first is obvious. They were slaves in Egypt and God rescued them at the time of Moses. That is the story of the first five books of the Bible.
The second is less obvious. If we read what Jeremiah writes in chapter 31, we discover that God is saying that although Rachel is weeping for her children – because of the suffering that they have experienced, because they have been taken into exile – God will save his people.

So in both cases there is God’s salvation, God’s rescue after suffering.
There is weeping today, but joy tomorrow.
The cross today, but resurrection tomorrow.

So no, we do not understand the purposes of God.
We do not understand why God allowed the children of Bethlehem to be slaughtered
We do not know why there are times when we experience the closeness and protection of God and other times when we experience intense pain, grief, and the absence of God
But we do know that with God – however dark it gets - there is hope.

Just as God comforted Rachel, Israel, so through Jesus he will comfort us
‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’

Just as God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, so through Jesus he will bring us out of slavery to sin and to death into freedom and life and intimacy with him.


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