There is an old saying, “You have the freedom to make choices, but you are not free from the consequences of those choices.” Every day we make choices most of them inconsequential; what am I going to wear today? What should I have for lunch? And all the rest of them. For many of us, we do not have to make life or death choices, we do not have to make life-changing or life-altering choices, but even in the simple, we should seek guidance.
The story we have heard this morning is a story about how God will protect those he loves, and it is also a story about faithfulness to what God is asking us to do.
Now I have not been a parent all that long I am still trying to get used to the idea, but if someone was trying to harm my child or, I was in a situation that I could see no way out of except to protect that child at all costs, I would do. Imagine being so desperate to protect that child that you risk your own life. You walk thousands of miles to find a better place for them to live. Maybe you have paid some people lots of money to help you get there with the promise of a new and better life. But when you arrive, you are thrown in jail and separated from your child. You endure some of the worst conditions, and you are separated from your child. You are eventually told that you have to leave, but your captors cannot locate your child, but you still have to go.
Now imagine a group of people, reasonably well off and privileged. They say that they follow Jesus and love the Lord with their whole heart, mind, and soul yet are indifferent to the suffering of the least of these. This same group of people very recently gathered in churches and sang and celebrated the birth of a child that had no place to lay his head and say that they would welcome that child into their home all the while ignoring the children ripped from the arms of their parents and placed in cages. Welcome to the 21st century telling of the story of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.
We don’t like to think about those sorts of things. We don’t want to talk about it, and we can justify those atrocities that have been done in our name by saying something like, they should not have come here, they should have stayed where they were. Sure, it’s easy for us to say from our padded seats in our warm churches surrounded by people that love us. Still, it is a different story when all you can think of is fleeing the place you have grown up because conditions there, by no fault of your own, have become unsafe and unlivable and all you seek if the freedom to raise your children without the fear of them being taken from you or killed.
This was the same fear that Mary and Joseph encountered. The Wise Me had come and paid a visit to Herod. They told Herod why they had come and Herod, filled with hatred and greed, convinced the Wise Men that he too wished to pay homage to the child. But they had a dream, and in that dream, the angel told them not to return to Herod. At considerable risk to their lives, they obeyed the angel and left without returning to Herod.
At the same time, the angel appeared to Joseph and told him to take the child and his mother away, to Egypt, outside of the grasp of Herod and with considerable risk to the lives of all of them, he did exactly what he was told to do by the angel. He did not have permission to enter Egypt. He did not have a sponsor or meaningful employment he just did what he had to do to protect his family. Joseph was faithful to God’s command, and God protected him.
But back home, Herod figured out he had been lied to by the Wise Men. Perhaps he was told by his advisors that he had to act to save face. Maybe he knew that if he did not do something, his base of support would turn against him. So what did Herod do? He had all of the male children murdered, to find the one he had them all murdered. He sent the military to round them up. They broke down doors, raided shops all in the name of keeping people safe. There was no trial; there was no due process; there was only murder.
Yesterday was the Fourth Day of Christmas and the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents the commemoration of the day when this atrocity took place. Scholars are unclear of the number that Herod ordered murdered but suffice it say, it was a large number. Some scholars believe it did not happen, and the story is an allegory of what hatred will do and what corruption of power will do. An allegory of what a person is willing to do to hang on to that power.
We all make choices in our lives, some good and some bad. How many of us seek out guidance from God, or others we trust, when making big choices in our lives, life-changing choices. Joseph chose to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, outside of the grasp of the madman Herod. The Wise Men decided to go back home another way to avoid being part of the slaughter of the innocents. Herod made a choice, obviously not directed by God, and he carried out severe crimes against humanity.
This is a difficult story, this is a hard story, but it is a story that we have to face. Joseph and Mary have had a wonderful experience, the birth of a child. They know this child is destined for greatness. They have had visitors from shepherd to the exotic visitors from the east that brought them expensive gifts and in a matter of moments; their lives will be changed again. They must now pack up all they have and run for their lives. They must run away to protect the child that God has given them to care for. What parent would not do that?
This is a story about the cruelty of humanity. It is a story about the corruption of power and the greed of one person, with an army at his beck and call, that can violate the lives of so many just to hang on to power. A sadistic mad man that will destroy the lives of so many, crush the hope and dreams of those seeking a better life just to protect the desires of those who already have so much more than most people in the world have.
But it is also a story of faithfulness and a story about doing whatever is necessary to protect the lives of those vulnerable in society. It is a story about standing up to power, even if it means going another way or deceiving that power. It’s a story about God’s faithfulness to his covenant with us that God will remain with us no matter what we are going through. It’s a story about choices and consequences, good and bad, but in the end, it is a story about the power of love over the power of hate. Herod dies, but Jesus survives. All of that hatred could not overcome love. All of that darkness could not overcome the light.
In the end, this is a story of love and a story of faithfulness and a story about God’s promise that he will always be with us to help us and guide us if we just listen when he speaks.