Isaiah 63.7-9; Hebrews 2.10-end; Matthew 2.13-end
Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share
the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A wise and yet demanding juxtaposition of readings plunges us,
four days after Christmas songs of heavenly bliss, into the
violence of the world into which the Son of God was born. There can
be no cocoon that isolates Christmas from the harsh realities of
After two millennia, the massacre in Bethlehem is all too
familiar in its horror. The Oxford Research Group reported last
month that more than 1000 children had been deliberately killed in
Syria, and, shockingly, that 112 - including infants - were first
That same week, The Guardian quoted a father in the
Central African Republic: "They started to attack my
[four-year-old] son. They tried to shoot him, but the gun was not
working. So they slit his throat instead. What threat does this
This is the world in which we hear this Sunday's readings. If
Matthew tells the story, Hebrews gives a theological commentary:
God has made the pioneer of our salvation perfect through
suffering, which began almost immediately; the Son, through whom
God speaks to us, was in danger as a toddler, and Joseph did not
wait for farewells before becoming a refugee.
It is likely that Joseph and Mary settled with the Jewish
community in Egypt. Coptic Christians in Egypt are proud that their
country offered sanctuary to the Son of God; that the place of
slavery and deliverance became the place of sanctuary and
deliverance. The incarnation took place in the context of fear for
survival - fear that Joseph and Mary continued to feel even back in
Again, Hebrews and Isaiah provide theological insights into this
very human story: these were people living with the fear of death,
who were being tested, and who therefore were the recipients of
God's mercy, steadfast love, and help - however fragile their
existence might have felt at the time.
No messenger or angel would do: in his love and pity, God
redeemed his people, and carried them all the days of old. Through
his ultimate death, the Son destroyed the one who had the power of
death. His was a cosmic battle.
In the collect, we pray that, as Jesus Christ came to share in
our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity. A world of
theology lies behind this prayer, which we pray this Sunday through
the lens of the vulnerability of a young child to violence and
massacre. No one can accuse God of ignoring the cruelty and
suffering of the world, so, if we share his life, we cannot ignore
what God embraces in his love and pity.
Our problem is that, faced with such horrors, paralysis sets in,
and we can feel powerless to do anything. Where do we start? When
that happens, we have Joseph's example of doing what he could, when
God asked him to act, and we can go back to the words that we heard
at the beginning of Advent: "Let us walk in the light of the Lord"
(Isaiah 2.5). Our response begins with the next step, however,
small that might be. When we walk, we keep one foot on the ground
of our sorrowful world.
At Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, six candles, representing
the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust, are reflected
hundreds of times in mirrors. My response to seeing this was a
Rachel's voice from Ramah,
as the little children die,
still across the land is sweeping
in the parents' anguished cry.
Jesus, you sought consolation
as you faced the awful cross,
and your cry of desolation
shouts the terror of its loss.
Light a candle in the
multiply its flickering light,
let it speak in solemn starkness
through the dark of evil's night.
Still today the children's
unwiped tears and broken hearts,
ask of us much more than sighing,
plead for justice grace imparts.
So the cries of lamentation,
Rachel's weeping down the years,
meet, in us, God's inclination
to redeem the mothers' tears.
Light a candle in the
Multiply its flickering light,
Let it speak in simple starkness
Of new hope born in the night.
On Christmas Day, we heard that the light shines in the
darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. If we believe that,
we can dare to light candles in the darkness of our world.
Hymn: © 1996 Rosalind Brown