It is often said that Christmas is for the Children. Christmas is geared around warm, cosy feelings of warmth and safety. Well, Matthew didn’t seem to get
the email; Matthew’s nativity would have to be shown after the 9 O’clock watershed. The “Original British Drama” type of programme.
In Mt 1 and 2 we have suspected adultery; leading to possible divorce; astrology; a despotic king plotting the death of a potential rival—something
like the princes in the tower of King Richard fame—we have the massacre of
innocent children—perhaps not on the scale of ISIS but something akin—we
have a middle eastern family fleeing this murderous situation and the
internal displacement of a vulnerable family. Not exactly what the traditional
Nativity play includes. You can almost here the shrill, outraged voice of the Daily Mail, “Children Traumatised by ‘realistic’ Nativity Play.”
In the first two chapters of Matthew we get a lot of information about the
identity of this child. I want to focus in on the Immanuel (God with us) title.
The presence of God is like bookends at the beginning and end of Matthew’s
Gospel. ‘And they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’) (Mt
1:23) and ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Mt 28:20).
Biblical scholars tell us that when you get such an “inclusio” the rest of the
book should be read through that concept.
It is amazing when we consider the way God chose to be with us. God has
intervened in human history not by sending a prophet with a message (as in
the Old Testament), not by writing a book and giving it to us (as Muslims
believe about the Koran), but he has intervened in human history by coming
bodily to earth and by becoming one of us.
Bethlehem was 5.5ml from Jerusalem and Herod’s soldiers. He truly did put
Jesus in harm’s way. God chose to be put into dangerous and vulnerable
position. He came into a poor and vulnerable refugee family who actually
end up as an internally displaced people. Joseph was from Bethlehem but
they are forced to live, probably near Mary’s family in Nazareth. As we know
from Nathaniel’s comment in John 1:46, Nazareth was not well respected.
So here we have Matthew’s rather gritty narrative. Not one for the children.