I led a Bible study last night with high school students through the 2nd chapter of Matthew. It's the only Gospel Advent story with a tragedy, the slaughter of the innocents. King Herod, in his paranoia, orders the execution of any boy under 2 years old in Bethlehem. (There are many paintings about this story, but I like Navez's, from 1824, because his focus is on the mothers, the ones who are left with the emotional devastation of this evil.) Matthew's story tells the facts. He does not offer a religious explanation. Instead he looks back to a similar tragedy in the history of the Jewish people, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and slaughtered the population 600 years before. Jeremiah writes Thus says the LORD: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more." Jer 31:15 But God also says, in v. 17, There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country. In Jeremiah's circumstance, those children did return, 70 years later. The Advent season is about hope. The first Advent, advent means the coming or arrival of something very important, was the birth of a new king, the one Herod felt so threatened by. Tragedy and sorrow followed this king all his life. Eventually, he was murdered under the guise of political theater. But he proved that he was different, that his message is worth hearing, that his promises are trustworthy, by coming back from the dead. He promises that he will return and will set things right. In Bible study last night we talked about how we are in a new season of Advent. We, too, are waiting for the return of the king. Our hope is in a king who can reunite families who have been separated by tragedy. Our hope is in a king who can and will defeat death.
And if our king can defeat death, I'm confident that the lack of religious instruction or coherent gun control laws will not stand in his way either. On Friday, he was executed, and Saturday was a dark period of readjustment. But on Sunday, everything changed. We live in a perpetual Saturday, with days like yesterday, that are more like Friday, so we mourn with each other. That's not all we do. We also encourage each other that Sunday is coming. We are going on 2000 years of Advent. Generations have come and gone. Nevertheless, his promises are enable us to hold on, to move past despair, to provide hope.
Matthew continues, 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene." As The Voice Bible translation describes in a note, "Nazarene means, “tender, green, or living branch.” Jesus is the living Branch, the branch of David that extends the reach of the tree of Israel eventually to foreigners and outsiders." This points me to the hope Isaiah described, before Jeremiah's time,
1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Isa. 53.In the time of hopelessness and drought, a green shoot appears. My hope is that one day he will come and make all things right.