December 28

Feast of the Holy Innocents

First Reading: 1 John 1:5-2:2

5 This is the message (we) have heard from HIM and we proclaim to you, that GOD is light and there is not any darkness in HIM. 6 If (we) say that we have fellowship with HIM and we journey around (in life) in darkness, (we) lie and (we) do not do (actions in life according to) the truth; 7 but, if (we) journey around (in life) in the light, just as HE is in the light, (we) have fellowship with each other and the blood of Jesus HIS Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If (we) should say we have not sin, (we) deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

9 If we should confess our sins, (HE) is trustworthy and righteous, so (HE) will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If (we) should say that (we) have not sinned, (we) make HIM a liar and HIS Word is not in us.

2:1 Children, (I) write you these (things), so that (you) might not sin. If someone should sin, (we) have an advocate before the FATHER, Jesus Christ (the) righteous (one); 2 he is the expiation for our sins, not for our alone, but for (the sins) of the entire world.

1:5 “...HIM...” Throughout these passages, the personal pronoun “HIM” has been capitalized, in order to show a reference to God the Father. (Normally, such capitals refer to Jesus, but I decided to make this editorial exception to clarify the passage.)

2:2 “(Jesus) is the expiation for our sins.” The term “expiation” in a theological sense means “removal of sin.” Expiation emphasizes the mercy of God over ways to satisfy his righteous wrath (propitiation).

After the introduction of 1 John 1:1-4, the author shifted from the question of witness to the question of message. He saw reality as dualistic in nature: good vs. evil, light vs. dark, the saved vs. the damned. “God is light and in him there is no darkness (1:5b)” He followed this message with a set of six conditional (“If...then”) statements about the relationship between God and people. Each of three heretical statements are followed by three orthodox statements.

1:6-7 The first statement is an assertion about divine fellowship without living a moral life (“living in darkness”); such a life is dishonest (“we do not live in the truth”). The followup statement stated those who live a moral and faith-filled life enjoy fellowship with other Christians AND have a forgiveness of sins.

1:8-9 The third statement addressed the opposite problem of moral hypocrisy: pride. The hypothetical believer claimed moral superiority (“we claim we have not sinned”). Again, this is dishonest. The followup statement encouraged humility. It assumed the person was a sinner; it stressed how confession will lead to forgiveness and help to reform (“he will cleanse us from all unrighteousness”).

1:10-2:2 The fifth statement echoed the third. The claim of sinlessness, however, has another consequence. Not only is a life build upon such a statement dishonest, it makes the claim of “Christian” dishonest and proof the person rejected the Savior (“His Word is not in us.”). The last statement not only claimed forgiveness for the repentant sinner, it stress the dual role Jesus played in salvation history as mediator (“advocate before the Father”) and instrument of universal forgiveness (“expiation for sin”).

While the author addressed the problem of disingenuous and proud Christians, he also addressed doctrinal issues of divine forgiveness, the salvific death of Jesus (1:7b), the Son of God as the Logos (1:10), and the role Christ played in God’s plan of salvation (2:1b-2). These are the spiritual benefits the children of God enjoy.

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Gospel: Matthew 2:13-18

13 After (the Magi) left, Look! an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, "Rising up, take the CHILD and his mother. Escape to Egypt. Remain until I say (otherwise). For Herod is about to seek the CHILD to destroy HIM. 14 Having risen (out of bed), he took the CHILD and his mother at night and left for Egypt. 15 He was there until Herod's death, so that the (word) spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, "I called my son out of Egypt."

16 Then Herod, having seen that he was mocked by the Magi, was very angry and, having sent (his army), (he) killed all young boys in Bethlehem and all the territories around it from the age of two and younger, according to the time he determined from the Magi. 17 Then, (this was the word) spoken through prophet Jeremiah, saying:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, much wailing and lamentation, Rachel (is there) wailing over her children, and she does not want to be consoled, since her children are no (more).”

2:15 "Herod's death" is literally "the end of Herod."

"I called my son out of Egypt." is from Hosea 11:1. The prophet referred collectively to the nation of Israel in the Exodus. In addition, Egypt was a place of refuge for Israelites even before the Babylonian exile. In the time of Jesus, a large population of Jews lived in Alexandria and the area along the Nile.

2:16 “Herod...was mocked by the Magi.” The verb “mocked” has the meaning of “being fooled.” The Magi did not return to Jerusalem and report the King as he had requested (2:7-8). Herod’s reaction was ironic, since he “mocked” the Magi by his insincere request to worship the new King and his duplicity.

“...according to the time (Herod) determined from the Magi.” In other words, according to the time when the Magi first saw the star in the East.

2:18 This verse is from Jeremiah 31:15.

“Thus says YHWH: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”

The Greek in 2:18 differs from the Septuagint, the standard Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. There is some scholarly disagreement whether Matthew translated the passage from the Hebrew, adapted the Septuagint text, or used a different (unknown) translation.

“Ramah” was a village that belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. It is located about eight miles north of Jerusalem. “Rachel” was the grandmother of Ephraim, through her son, Joseph.

In a stylistic fashion, Matthew explained how Jesus moved from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Matthew was not concerned so much with geographic relocation, but theological relocation. For Matthew, the Hebrew Scriptures foretold the movement of the Messiah.

Matthew 2:13-23 connected the revelation of baby Jesus as the Messiah (to the Magi) with the beginning of his adult ministry (the appearance of John the Baptist). The scene opened with the dream of Joseph and the command to relocate in Egypt. 2:16-18 referred to the death of the innocent children at the hands of Herod. The missing verses (2:19-23) described the move to settle in Galilee. Each of the three sections had a common thread: a scripture was fulfilled.

The opening and closing scenes also had parallels: 1) the appearance of the angel in Joseph's dream, 2) Joseph's response, and 3) a quote from Scripture. The angel presented God's message to a righteous man. Joseph, husband to Mary, received the message and moved, just like his famous name's sake. Joseph, the son of Jacob, entered Egypt under force and rose to prominence with his ability to interpret dreams. His remains returned with the people in the Exodus. In 2:15, Matthew quoted Isaiah 11:1: a "son" that referred to Joseph's spiritual progeny, the people of Israel. Thus, Matthew connected Jesus to the Exodus as the one who would represent the people, and foreshadowed his personal exodus for Israel on the cross.

Herod’s reaction to the Magi’s absence was rage. He might have felt his hospitality and his prerogative as the king had been spurned. He who duped the Magi felt duped. But, more important, he used his rage to snuff out a potential rival through localized mass murder. Matthew used this incident to refer to a passage from Jeremiah and apply it to Jesus. Notice the tone of Jeremiah 31:15 foreshadowed the grief Mary would suffer at the foot of the Cross.

Other themes foreshadowed the ministry and life of Jesus. As the family lived on the move, so did Jesus in his adult ministry. Just as the family faced the threat of violence, so did Jesus in his visit to Jerusalem. This mobility and life under threat were God's will, just as the angel revealed and Scripture confirmed. The life of Jesus, then, was one without home and roots, one on the road for the will of God and the good of others.