Family Liturgies

Matthew 2: Sobbing & Silence

by Erika Marksbury

Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:13-18

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “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.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent orders to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through 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 are no more.”

Maybe this story didn’t really happen. It is my deepest hope that this story didn’t really happen. Some scholars suggest that because Matthew is portraying Jesus as a “new Moses,” a new liberator of God’s people, they copy and paste this portion of Moses’ birth story here within Jesus’ own. Of course, I’d hope that story didn’t really happen, either, and was some sort of literary device meant to say something about the fragility of unjust power and its horrific attempt to destroy any future which it might not control.

Except Aleppo. Except the Philippines, or Afghanistan, or some of our own streets here in America. We could hope and pray that these stories never really happened except we see them happening, all over the world, even today.

And I don’t know how we talk to our kids about this. Most readers of this blog spent yesterday in warm houses, with tables full of food and stockings full of gifts. Most of us hugged our children tight and said thanks to each other and to God for this abundant goodness. Most of us went to bed without fear.

So what is our responsibility to those who didn’t? What sort of awareness are we obligated to instill in our children? How do we tell the Christmas story, and tell (or not tell) this story that is such a part of it? How is it we say to kids that God-is-with-us, and that means born among us, in Jesus, and somehow, also, in all of the lives that we don’t celebrate, that we can hardly bear to hear about?

I’ve always been a little annoyed by “Away in a Manger.” A baby who doesn’t cry? Come on. But then this story came out, about kids in war zones who have stopped crying. And now I hear the song, and I wonder if somehow the just-born Jesus could sense the danger around him, the sorrow that was coming. If the tearlessness was not a sign of a “good baby” but of one who already knew too much. If somehow Jesus’ silence and Rachel’s sobbing are the same – both signs of God’s presence, bearing our lives, mourning our deaths, with us in all things. I think that’s the God I want to introduce my kids to. I hope that’s the story that will compel them to see God everywhere.

Questions to Spark Discussion
– Why might Herod have felt so threatened by Jesus? How can a child make a king afraid?

– Have you ever cried in a way that you couldn’t be consoled? What was that hurt like? What is worth that kind of sadness?

– The angel protects Jesus in this story. How can we protect one another, in small and big ways?

Spiritual Practice
In this time of heightened insecurity and instability, especially for people who are already marginalized, Sojourners (a magazine that covers those stories where faith, politics, and culture cross) is inviting people to take the Matthew 25 pledge. Inspired by that scripture, people are signing their names to say: “I pledge to protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus.”

Talk together about what that might mean for your family – how you can protect other families, how your children can defend other children. What do these promises look like in a parking lot, or at a playground? How do they take on braoder significance at your community center or with your congregation?

If you decide that’s a commitment you want to make, you can sign here:

Maybe the words of the Sojourners pledge don’t quite fit for you. If that’s the case, consider crafting your own pledge. What commitment do you want to make as a family? How can you promise, individually and together, to care for the world around you? See if you can make it a concise statement, like the one sentence from Sojourners. And commit to talking as a family about the real ways you can and will stand up for other people.

Holy One,
For all those with no crib for a bed,
We ask your mercy and care.
For all those who have their needs met,
We ask your passion and challenge.
May we know you, with us,
Born among us throughout the world,
Long ago and even today.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s