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Pop quiz:

1)    How old was Jesus in Matt. 2?

2)    Why did Jesus go to Egypt?

You will be surprised to learn the answers to the above questions.  I continue to talk about Matthew in this installment.  Many have seen the entire Matt. 2 as the birth narrative.  Most certainly, Matt. 1.18-25 was the birth narrative. Matt. 2.1 clearly states that “after” Jesus was born, the magi came from the East.  This is why the extended holiday after Christmas is called Epiphany (Jan. 6), celebrating the arrival of the magi. Church traditional feast day of Epiphahy recognizes that Matt. 2 is the post-Christmas narrative.  Careless readers have been trying to figure out how Matt. 2 and Luke 2 harmonize.  There is NO harmonization because there is no such need.  In fact, the events following the first Christmas were nothing short of chaotic.

The story of the Magi clearly shows that Jesus was already slightly older because it must have taken a while for the Magi to come to Bethlehem from the East.  Anyone with or without Bible knowledge can see clearly that coming from the East would take quite a while.  A further hint that Jesus had become a bit older than a newborn is in the killing policy of the cruel Herod the Great in Matt. 2.16 proves that Jesus was within a two-year range.  Jesus could well be a toddler.  Who knows?

If Jesus was already a bit older, Mary’s place was probably quite precarious because after all, his own hometown knew that she gave birth out of wedlock.  The shame of carrying a baby in that culture was not the cute picture we have every Christmas of the peaceful holy family.  Yet, Mary’s social situation is only a secondary theme.  What happened thereafter would lead us to a strange ending of the seemingly peaceful birth story.

What is the point of the story?  We can see the ending of Jesus’ childhood narrative to see a surprising foreshadow portrait of Jesus.  The killing led Jesus to Egypt in Matt. 2.13.  Besides seeing the suffering caused by the human empire (i.e. Herod), Matthew showed a theological point in Matt. 2.15, quoting Hos. 11.1. Matthew’s OT quotations are a discipline beyond the scope of a short blog.  The quote of Hos. 11.1 does have a broad context.  In Hosea, YHWH confronted His unfaithful people by recalling the salvation from Egypt.  The unfaithfulness of God’s people eventually caused them to be punished.  Matthew quoted Hos. 11.1 here with the original context in mind.  Jesus would become that symbolically faithful Israel.  Jesus himself became the victim of political oppression.  By doing so, Jesus showed that all was not well, but at the end of Matthew, God’s salvation was still sufficient.

Christmas reminds us that all was not well in this world.  This world was chaotic.  Mary had to face social pressure (an unwed mother), the magi had to face the threat of Herod (political pressure), babies and toddlers were killed (cruelty of an evil man) and Jesus had to escape (more cruelty of an evil man).  Evil exists in a very real sense, but ultimately, the story did not end at Christmas but at the empty tomb.  As God was faithful in delivering Israel, He was faithful in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  He will be faithful to the end.  Yet, in between the rich magi laid down their wealth before the young Jesus to signify that goodness could come from the strangest of places due to the strangers God had drawn to Himself.  Thus, the only good rich guys in the story gave up their time and riches to serve a poor family because they wanted to seek the truth and worship an unlikely king.  How much of our search for truth climax with an offering to feed the hungry, dress the cold, and heal the sick of this world?

In the same way, we can have hope.  Today, every Christmas, many of our churches display an extravagance of rich resources, whether in our Christmas programs or each member’s spending habit.  Many from these churches also cry the loudest, ‘Put Christ back into Christmas” or “Stop saying happy holidays.”  I wonder if these people see the Christmas as some kind of faraway concept that we can mold to our whims.  Perhaps, some others think that if we gain some hope from Christ’s birth, that would be good enough.  The story of Epiphany is not just about spending madly or some future abstract hope.  Something would be remiss if we don’t remember that the resources we have in rising in the social ladder ought to be given to much more worthy causes than self-aggrandizement.  The only good guys in the Epiphany story were those who sought truth even if it took giving away some of their wealth.

An Advent prayer: Dear Lord, let me not forget all of those around the world who are frightened at this moment.  Help those who are victims of terrorism and war.  Be with those who have lost so much in the past year.  Hold us all in your loving arms and let us be comforted by the strength and peace you want to offer us through the birth of your son, Jesus.  Amen.[1]