Out of Egypt

December 26, 2007

Time is being stretched in the gospel narrative. With several
allusions to the wise men, we look forward to next Sunday’s celebration
of Epiphany. With the several allusions to the Exodus we also look back
to the Israelites held in bondage in Egypt. With the future, the
present and the past seemingly all at hand, how do we draw out for our
congregations a message from the manger?

The echoes tell us
everything. When Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt, we
naturally think of next week’s nocturnal warning to the wise men to go
home another way. When Herod murders any child two years old or under,
we hearken back to Pharaoh and his deadly edict. Danger is everywhere.
Even at his birth, Jesus is shadowed by destruction. Sister Margaret
Eletta Guider calls it “living in the shadow of the manger.” According
to Guider, we see the fragility of Jesus’ life, not only on the cross
at Calvary, but also in the stable. From the beginning, Jesus is at
risk.

He’s a threat to power, and threats to power almost
always result in violent attempts to wipe out those threats. In the
manger scene, Jesus is King from day one. Shepherds and wise men alike
adore him, but the human authorities don’t want to share their thrones.
King Herod forbids the adoration of anyone except him. In the Exodus,
Pharaoh refuses to be weakened by the loss of his slave laborers, and,
in our contemporary context, the United States government refuses to
yield in its War on Terror. Will we ever learn?

Several weeks
ago, President Bush announced that the administration’s policy toward
Iran would not change despite the release of a U.S. intelligence report
indicating that Iran had suspended its atomic weapons program back in
2003. As Yogi Berra said, “This is déjà vu all over again.” History has
a way of bending back again and again to violence. But the good news of
the gospel is that in the birth of Jesus, the reign of the “Prince of
Peace” has been inaugurated. As Christians, we serve an infant king
whose life on earth will disrupt the violent pattern of history and
reveal to us another way.

Jesus’ exile in infancy and his
journey out of Egypt are painful reminders to us in the church that
often we are too often part of the violence. For the sake of our
security, we pay tribute to the “powers that be,” and the result can be
deadly.

A couple of months ago, I went to see the movie, In the Valley of Elah.
It’s a complex and powerful movie that doesn’t offer easy answers to
the unraveling chaos in Iraq. I was deeply affected by the movie, and
by the director’s inscription that came at its close. On the screen was
a photograph of an Iraqi child’s dead body (a part of the movie that is
crucial to the plot) with the words, “For the children,” beneath it.
Rachel still weeps for her children. She refuses to be consoled, and
this Christmas, so should we.