Hope in the Darkness
"Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."
January 1, 2023, Words By: Trisha Welstad, Image By: Ahmed akacha
Each year the season of Christmas gets me excited. Even as the days get colder and darker the warm feelings of Christmas and all the wonder the holidays bring propels me into preparations for celebration. My two small children, just old enough to grasp the meaning of this season, have joined in on the traditions.
An expected tradition in our home is inviting the tiny holy family and friends to live on our table. Each year I attempt to get our family on board with the idea of a progressive nativity, one that acts out the journey of Joseph and Mary, shepherds, and wise men and takes at least a month to complete. I hide the baby Jesus and the wise men, and place Mary and Joseph far from the stable, so that only a shepherd and lone sheep remain in the birth location, waiting for the story to unfold. It’s a futile effort as my kids want everyone together, and often a sheep ends up sitting on Jesus. And so, for December and part of January, there is a playful struggle for where exactly Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the rest of the cast should be on their nativity journey.
While our pre-Christmas debate on the migration of Jesus’ family is mostly play and fun, I am reminded in this week’s text of the continued displacement and pain of Jesus and his parents following his birth. While shepherds, angels, and later wise men were eager to worship the new God-child, King Herod is terrified upon hearing the news. What should have been a celebration of good news of great joy quickly turns into a nation under siege by their ruler, fueled by fear, scarcity, and a desire for power.
Being warned by an angel, Jesus’ father Joseph leads them in relocating to protect their young son. And while Jesus’ life was spared in his family’s exodus to Egypt, Herod turned his rage to the remaining families in the region of Bethlehem, murdering all the children two and under.
This part of the story is a hard stop for me. It’s only three verses and only mentioned in Matthew. Some even consider the massacre a myth. Regardless, the text sheds light on the story. Jesus’ birth story doesn’t end with our idyllic manger scenes. He entered a really messed up world where innocent families could be ravaged by fear and evil, and even the Son of God could be sent on the run for years at a time.
God becoming human did make hope burst forth but it did not instantly heal everything that was wrong. Hope came in the midst of unbearable suffering. Light came in the darkness of night.
I am deeply grateful for a God acquainted with suffering from the very beginning. In the grief of Israel, I remember the ways our own families have grieved the loss of innocence by evil. In knowing that Jesus’ community underwent a traumatic loss, I consider the many losses in our local communities. In the continual displacement of Jesus, I hold the displacement of my neighbors.
The journey of Jesus’ life from the very beginning offers both hope and empathy to us today. There are still angels and shepherds and kings declaring, “God is with us.” Our world is still deeply broken and sinful. And Jesus still chooses to dwell right in the midst of it all, no matter our loss or where our journey has placed us.
Dwelling Among Us
Where are you finding God’s hopeful presence with you in the midst of suffering this Christmas season?