By Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, December 30, 2018
Now when they had 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 Archelaus 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.” Matthew 2:13-23 (Gospel from Sunday after the Nativity)
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Just about everything that happened in the life of Christ was foretold in the Old Testament. The foretelling of these events in the Old Testament are known as prophecies. A prophecy means foretelling something that is to come. So, the people had been told through many centuries that a Messiah was coming. All the prophecies would be fulfilled by one person. And when the people saw these prophecies coming true, they would know that this person was the Lord’s promised Messiah, the Christ.
In [the] Gospel reading[s], three Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled. They would be three of many that would be fulfilled in the person of Christ.
When the Magi departed, they went back to their home country without going back to King Herod, as he had requested. Joseph, meanwhile, was warned by an angel in a dream to flee to Egypt. Christ is sometimes referred to as the “Second Adam,” who did what the first Adam could not do. He remained in communion with God at all times. Jesus Christ not only showed us what we were created to be, He also retraced the steps of many who came before Him. We know that the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt and then came out of Egypt. They were then given the Law. Jesus went to Egypt to escape King Herod and would remain there for a time and eventually come out from Egypt, just as the Israelites did. He could also follow the Law and eventually supersede it. The prophecy that the Messiah would come out of Egypt was foretold in Hosea 11:1: “When Israel was a child, I love him, and out of Egypt I called My Son.” The scripture is fulfilled in Matthew 2:14-15: “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.’”
Herod, meanwhile, was enraged that the Magi had not told him where the newborn “King of the Jews” was. So Herod ordered all the male children age two and under in the region surrounding Bethlehem to be killed. This resulted in the loss of 14,000 innocent children. The Prophet Jeremiah foretold this when he wrote: “Thus says the Lord: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not.’” (Jeremiah 31:15)
When Herod died, an angel told Joseph that it was safe to return home. When he returned home, he learned the Archelaus, the son of Herod, was ruling in his father’s place and he was concerned. Again, an angel guided him to settle in Nazareth. This fulfilled a prophecy embedded in the book of Judges: “for the boy shall be a Nazarite to God from birth.” (Judges 13:5) This prophecy occurs in the middle of a story about Samson, but all of these righteous figures of the Old Testament serve as precursors or archetypes of Christ.
Before ending the reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel, there is one other comment I wish to make, on the slaughter of the innocents. Every time I have read the Gospel passage, either alone or in church, these past many years, I have gotten emotional. In my ministry as a priest, in twenty years, I have buried 12 children under the ages of 18, and more than 20 children in all (in terms of children who still had parents who had to bury them.). Every week it seems, we hear of another shooting of innocent children. So, continuing this reflection, I offer the following:
In this joy of this season, in the glory of this story of Christ’s Nativity, there is one dark chapter that must be mentioned, which is the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod. When I read this Gospel passage each year during the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday after the Nativity, I always get tears in my eyes as I read the phrase “Rachel weeping for her children.” I think of the sadness in the world, of mothers and fathers who don’t have their children at Christmas because they have succumbed to disease, accident, war, terrorism, or any other factor that causes premature death. I also think of people who are like King Herod—people who wish to harm the message of Christianity and those who adhere to it. Indeed, in many corners of the world, “Rachel is still weeping for her children.”
Please take a moment today to thank God for His blessings. Pray for those who are weeping today for whatever reason. I’m sure there are some you know, and many more that you don’t. Many of these reflections include some call to action. Today’s call is for all of us to be a little more attentive—make sure you know the person who works next to you in the office, or who lives next door, or who sits next to you in the pews on Sunday. Part of loving our neighbor means comforting our neighbor, and in order to do that, we have to know our neighbor, so we know who needs a shoulder to cry on. We all have to work at creating environments which let our neighbors know that we are ready and willing to do that.
In John 1: 4–5, we read “In Him (the Word) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Only the Light of Christ, and the hope found in Him, can dry the tears of Rachel and soften the heart of Herod. “Let your Light so shine before men (Matt. 5:16),” so that you can be a help to those who need help, in whatever way help is needed.
Blood and fire and a cloud of smoke, portents on earth that Joel foresaw: blood, the incarnation; fire, the divinity; and the cloud of smoke, the Holy Spirit that came upon the Virgin and filled the world with fragrance. Great is the mystery of Your becoming human! Glory to You, O Lord. (Doxastikon of the Sunday after the Nativity of Christ, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Biblical scholars point to 200-400 individual prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled in the person of Christ. The odds of this many things happening to one person are astronomical. Indeed, they are divine. They point to the fact that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, the Son of God, our Savior!
~Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Tampa, FL, http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/.