On coming to the house, [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord 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 trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
(Matthew 2:11-13; 19)
It sometimes feels like this part of Matthew's nativity story plays out a little like the original Christmas pantomime:
Herod, as the archetypal panto villain (minus the drag), is unwittingly told of Jesus’ birth by the Magi. In an attempt to preserve his evil reign he hatches a cunning plan to have the baby Jesus killed (boo hiss!). But this plan is thwarted (yay!) on multiple occasions thanks to the dreams (picture smoke and dark blue lighting all over the stage) of various other key characters. Eventually he dies, and the good guys all live happily forever after.
Sadly the story is more real and more horrific than this pantomime reading suggests. Infanticide isn't exactly a good foundation for family-friendly-festive-fun! And the experience of both the Magi and Joseph and Mary would have been one of deep fear and imminent danger.
Yet consistently, God speaks into these circumstances.
First to the Magi and then twice to Mary and Joseph he appears to them in dreams and gives them counsel that helps them navigate the moment.
Obviously few of us face the threat of death at the hand of an ageing, irrational, and murderous tyrant. But many of us find ourselves in circumstances that we need help navigating.
Sometimes, like the Magi, these are politically risky situations, maybe even ones we’ve unwittingly created ourselves. Sometimes, like Mary and Joseph we find ourselves on the wrong side of people who are resistant or even outright opposed to who we are and what we’re trying to do. Perhaps Herod for us takes the form of other churches, or the university itself.
For those of us in these situations, this story poses the questions:
How do we make room for God to speak into these situations?
I find it hard to believe it would have been the Magi’s preference to sneak off back to their own country. And even harder to believe it was Mary and Joseph’s preference to have to run away as asylum seekers to Egypt. But God spoke and they responded and ultimately it was their response to God that kept them safe.
Are we able to follow God into uncomfortable territory in order for him to help resolve these difficult situations?
What else about these dreams encourages / inspires / challenges you?
For more Nativity-prompted reflections check out the posts below:
Photo credit: Joey Banks