Christmas Prayers and Reflections: 28 December (Matthew 2.13-18)

Preparation

O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Blessed are you, sovereign God,
creator of heaven and earth,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As your living Word, eternal in heaven,
assumed the frailty of our mortal flesh,
may the light of your love be born in us
to fill our hearts with joy as we sing:
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever.

Reading: Matthew 2.13-18

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’ 

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through 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 are no more.’

Matthew 2.13-18 NRSV

Reflection 

On this day the Church remembers the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by a brutal and ruthless despot, Herod, known as The Great. Our reading begins with Joseph fleeing to the land of Egypt to protect Mary and their precious child. Then we hear of the sheer bestiality of Herod as he gives the command to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under. It is so difficult for us to imagine such a horror, despite the many instances of such evil that still occur in our modern world.

Herod was a powerful man, but his power was fragile because it depended upon his being able to rule through fear. Herod knew that the time could easily come when his power could be undermined by those younger and stronger than himself. Herod’s paranoia in these matters knew no bounds. Before the birth of Jesus he had already ordered the killing of three of his own sons (Alexander, Aristobulus and Antipater) because he considered them to be potential threats to his own authority. For one who was able to behave in such a way towards his own children, ordering the slaughter of the young children of a whole community would not have been difficult, and especially when, through his brutal action, he hoped to crush a potential rival to his own kingship.

It is not possible for us to imagine such a level of cruelty and lack of compassion but, whilst we may not wish to wipe out large numbers of people, we are still capable of bringing about misery and a sense of persecution through the way we treat others. Every time we show our contempt for others, every time we put our own likes and dislikes ahead of the needs of others, every time we sit in silence and join in the passive/aggressive bullying of others we are proving ourselves to be just as heartless and uncaring as Herod.

Jesus, the one who was forced into exile, would go on to teach us of the importance of loving our neighbours as much as we love ourselves, no matter who or what they might be. Jesus’ ministry in this world would demonstrate that love, even to the point of his death on the cross. The challenge for us is to examine our attitudes and our behaviours and then to find the humility to recognize that very often we are the ones in the wrong; we are the ones who are ruthless in protecting the little ‘kingdoms’ we create for ourselves. Let us pray for the humility to be truly compassionate in the name of Jesus as we go about our daily business. Let us pray that we might make Christ’s healing known to those who are the victims through weakness and difference.

Prayers

To us a child is born, to us a son is given;
let us pray for the people he came to save.

Wonderful Counsellor,
you order all things with your wisdom:
help the Church to reveal the mystery of your love
and fill her with the Spirit of truth:
Lord, in your mercy 
hear our prayer.

Mighty God,
the government is on your shoulders:
guide the leaders of the nations
and bring in your kingdom of justice and righteousness: 
Lord, in your mercy 
hear our prayer.

Everlasting Father,
you call us to live together in unity:
protect by your mercy all your children,
bless our families and renew our communities: 
Lord, in your mercy 
hear our prayer.

Prince of Peace,
you bring reconciliation through the cross:
by your healing power give to all who suffer
your gift of wholeness and peace: 
Lord, in your mercy 
hear our prayer.

Let us commend the world, to which Christ came,
to the mercy and protection of God.

Lord Jesus Christ,
your birth at Bethlehem
draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
accept our heartfelt praise
as we worship you,
our Saviour and our eternal God.
Amen.

Rejoicing in the presence of God here among us,
let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
things earthly and heavenly,
fill us with peace and goodwill
and make us partakers of the divine nature;
and may the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among us and remain with us always.
Amen.