I like to read novels, when I have time, and I like going to the movies. And when I am reading or watching a story, I like proper endings: the enemy is vanquished, the lost are found, true love overcomes all obstacles. Those kinds of endings are satisfying.
But I know real life is not like that! There are no proper endings. The glorious victory is just today’s victory – tomorrow brings new challenges. Today’s romance moves on to the drudgery of day to day life.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us that what happens next can be difficult.
Over the last week, we have been hearing the story of the baby born in Bethlehem, and the shepherds who came to visit. Next week we hear the story of the wise men. Today’s story actually picks up where next week’s story ends, which is a bit confusing.
So the visitors from far away have gone back home, and they have left Herod the King in a state of anxiety, because he now knows about the birth of a new king, which Herod sees as a threat. So he’s thinking about how to protect his political security.
In the meantime, Joseph the dreamer has another dream, and an angel tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. So the holy family become refugees and seek asylum in Egypt. They travel by night, leaving everything behind them. They travel secretly, staying out of sight of the authorities, and out of sight of anyone who might report them. It is a long journey.
I am sure this will resonate for many of you here, who have made difficult journies to leave a place where there is threat of violence to seek a new home where you hope you can find safety, even when it means leaving everything you knew, making difficult journies and then having to learn a new language and navigate difficult Home Office systems. Remember that, however difficult things have been and still are, Mary and Joseph and Jesus have been there too.
And then in the Gospel reading, we hear about the danger that Mary and Joseph and Jesus are escaping. Herod wants to kill the new baby king to protect himself. So he sends his soldiers to kill all the children aged under 2 in the Bethlehem area. A terrible atrocity.
So we have the lovely story of Christmas, of the birth of the baby Jesus, with the angels celebrating in the sky, and telling the shepherds who come to visit. It is full of joy, and the angels are singing about the glory of God and peace on earth. And then we discover that Herod has no time for God’s glory or for peace on earth, and he is setting out to kill the baby Jesus, and because he doesn’t know which child is the new king, he kills all the young children in and around Bethlehem. It is not a happy ending!
Today’s story from the Gospel is not comfortable. It does not make us feel good. But it does show us that whatever difficulties we experience in life, Jesus has been there too. Jesus understands our pain and hurt and suffering. And he can embrace us in our struggles and give us the faith and hope and love that we need to get through.
It is also a reminder to us to show love and care to those who need to escape their own countries. And to pray for those who have lost their children.
I once met a family at the Food Coop at Corpus Christi. They had to leave their own country and made a long and dreadful journey to get to the UK. On the way, they lost one of their 3 children. They were heart-broken. I remember them especially today.