Matthew 2:13-23 (NRSV)
Verse 13Now 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." Verse 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, Verse 15and 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."
Verse 16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed 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. Verse 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: Verse 18"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."
Verse 19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, Verse 20"Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." Verse 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. Verse 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. Verse 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."
In some churches this week's lectionary gospel reading may be passed over due to a pastor's vacation or a service of "lessons and carols." Of course, if ever we were to skip a reading, it might be tempting in the case of this difficult one. But here it is in front of us, on Friday if not Sunday; so what holy word might we find?
Certainly not a message that God saves the Christ child at the tragic expense of others. Nor that God speaks to Joseph while ignoring "Rachel's" sorrow. That is not the God we confess.
Matthew tells this story from Joseph's point of view, so we follow his family to and from Egypt, noting God's presence all the way. But we also know "the Lord is near to the brokenhearted" (Psalm 34:18), so surely God showed up also for the Bethlehem families whose babies were killed. God wrapped them in divine love in the form of friends' arms, meals brought by neighbors, kind mentions of each child's name, assurances that their short lives mattered. When lives are lost in our midst too, we become the love of God "near to the brokenhearted." And it is holy.
God who is near to all who celebrate and all who weep, use your people to show your love to those in pain today, even as the Christ child grew up and taught us to love others. Amen.