A Special Message from Fr. Barnabas: The year is almost gone. The Feast is upon us and we celebrate the entire feast and prepare for the New Year. We here at Faith Encouraged are preparing for the New Year as well. Will you help us before the year is done? Your gift of $5, $10, $20, or $50 is your way of saying “We support your work, Fr. Barnabas!” Click the picture below and make that gift today, or click this link and go there right now – https://faithencouraged.org/make-a-donation/. Thank you.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
All this week we are drawn to contemplate the implications of God becoming flesh for our salvation. And the Church has specific ways of jarring us out of the sentimentality of a Christmas celebration too small for the Event that has changed all of humanity and even the entire creation! Have I got your attention yet?
I know some may think “Wow, the Orthodox Faith really is trying to smash our happy time.” And you’d be right. The Faith isn’t trying to make you “happy” or “nostalgic” or even “sentimental.” The Faith is meant to transform you into a “new creation.” And that isn’t going to happen to people enslaved to sentimentality and nostalgia.
Case in point: Today the Church calls us to remember that Herod was intent on killing Jesus so much that he killed 14,000 infants among the Hebrews to try and get Jesus. Yesterday it was 20,000 martyrs in Nicomedia! Holy Moly! Talk about sober messaging! But we don’t grow up in our Faith without learning to deal with reality. And the reality is increasingly true that the message of the Orthodox Christian Faith is increasingly hated by a world that wants to escape reality into the fantasy world of feelings and false narratives. When you can insist on “my truth” we aren’t far away from excusing persecution of those “mean” and “bigoted” Christians!
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 2:13-23:
When the wise men departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaos reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
We know this passage so well. But let’s take a moment to contemplate some treasures from this passage.
The horrors of Herod’s blind rage at the thought he would lose his crown (a fake crown after all since it was given to him by the occupying Romans and not because he was the true heir to David’s throne) graphically displays the depths of a soul so darkened by self-deceit that the destruction of children becomes an acceptable path to preserve one’s status! Herod shows us what is possible in a depraved heart and invites us to avoid that horrible darkness by exercising our will to continually choose Life!
And God warns our Lord’s foster father to take the Child and His mother to Egypt, not to preserve the life of Jesus; God could accomplish that with a wave of His hand; but to guarantee that the Egyptians would have a part in the story of God leading humanity from slavery to freedom, just as they did in the First Testament. The Lord would then tell Joseph it was “safe” to return home after Herod’s death. But not back to Bethlehem. To Nazareth so that His story would include even outsiders and to fulfill the scriptures that told us He would be called a Nazarene. Can anything good come from Nazareth? Come and see!
Today, as we continue our celebration of the Feast, let us embrace this Way of the Nazarene that reorients us back to the freedom of a will made strong by the discipline of prayer, fasting, and generosity, and the grace that God always offers everyone as we embrace being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. When the King was born in Bethlehem, the Magi arrived from the East with gifts guided by a Star on high, but Herod was troubled and mowed down the children like wheat; for he lamented that his power would soon be destroyed.