December 29, Christmas 1A (Matthew 2:13–23)
Matthew connects Jesus to the overarching narrative of the Jewish people—as well as to the smaller story of Matthew’s immediate community.
One can read the twinned stories of the flight to Egypt and the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem as an example of how Matthew likes to depict Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. Jesus is like Joseph—the one with the amazing Technicolor dreamcoat, not his foster father—because he goes down to Egypt in desperate circumstances. Joseph saves his family from starvation by resettling them in Egypt; Jesus saves Israel by escaping Herod’s political violence. Jesus is also like Moses in that he sets his people free from their slavery. More generally, Matthew wants us to trust Jesus and his teaching because he has experienced the story of the Israelites in his own life story. In other words, he is Joseph, Moses, and Israel.
This story is also about the memory of Matthew’s community, which likely can relate firsthand to this story of people fleeing political violence. Matthew’s audience probably did not live through a slaughter of innocents in Bethlehem. They may or may not have had to run for their lives down to Egypt or anywhere else. But they did live in a nation occupied and occasionally terrorized by foreign troops. They know about Rachel weeping and mourning for her lost children. Matthew tells his audience, in other words, that Jesus knows what it’s like to stand in their shoes.
Matthew connects Jesus to two different levels of story: the overarching narrative of the Jewish people, and the smaller story of Matthew’s immediate community. Those stories fit together, and in their connection, they produce hope for the community.