My dear friends in our Lord: Christ is born!
In today’s Gospel we hear related the events which occurred after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and after the departure of the wise men who had sought Him, visited and worshipped Him.
Saint Matthew relates:
“After the wise men were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the Child and His mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee.”
First God led the wise men to faith by means of a star. Next, when they had come to Jerusalem, God taught them by the words of the prophet that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, as the chief priests and scribes declared when questioned by Herod. Finally, God made known to the wise men even more assuredly by an angel His command that they not return to Herod but that they depart for their own lands another way.
Accepting the divine discourse as a revelation from God, the wise men deceived Herod; they were not afraid of being persecuted by him, but rather trusted in the power of the new-born Christ. They were confirmed in their faith in Him, and became true and indubitable witnesses to Him.
They taught their fellow-countrymen in the Persian land, proclaiming the great and glorious mysteries of God. They foiled the fury of the tyrant Herod, turning their backs on him and making a fool of him, that he might learn that he was attempting the impossible.
It is not only with open and bold strokes that God subdues His enemies; for even to deceive them with ease is also the work of His wisdom and power.
Because of what happened to him, Herod was enraged and filled with fury; he could not endure the birth of the King of all and being spurned and mocked by the wise men. In his wickedness he gave orders to kill not only the infants of Bethlehem, but also those who were in all the regions roundabout, from two years old and under. For this reason an angel instructed Saint Joseph to take our Lord and the blessed Virgin and to fly into Egypt.
It was necessary for them to make their flight, to make a long journey and go far away, because Herod was raving with rage. Note, my friends, that by fleeing, the Lord teaches us to give place unto wrath. If the Almighty Himself flees, we, proud-minded people that we are, should learn not to plunge into dangerous situations.
Into Egypt He takes His flight, that He may sanctify that land also and liberate it from wickedness. For there were two lands which were dens of every iniquity: Babylon and Egypt. Therefore does the Lord receive the homage of Babylon in the persons of the wise men, and He delivered Egypt from evil and sanctified it by His going to that land.
Notice also, my friends, that the angel instructs Saint Joseph to remain in Egypt until such time as he is otherwise instructed by the angel.
In other words, they are to remain in Egypt, and to accept all trials with joy, until such a time as God tell the angel what the Holy Family was to do.
We, too, my friends, can do nothing without God’s counsel; as our Lord said: Without Me, ye can do nothing. When we are beginning some action and seek to accomplish it, it behooves us to seek God’s will and to invoke His assistance and His help. Moreover, even for us to will and to do good comes from God; for it is God Which worketh in us both to will and to do, as the Apostle says.
If we commence a good work, but it does not attain its end, our will grows weak, and we become too tired to carry it out; but if we have God helping us and setting our desire on fire, our will power is augmented, and we are able to accomplish something good. Let us, then, place all that we have with God, because without Him we can accomplish nothing.
And so, as the Gospel relates: Saint Joseph “arose, and took the Child and His mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called My Son.”
The prophet spoken of here is Hosea, who prophesied concerning our Lord.
Continuing, “Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.”
God mocked Pharaoh through Moses, and now He mocked Herod through the wise men, because both Pharaoh and Herod were murderers of children; Pharaoh slew the male children of the Hebrews in Egypt, and Herod in Bethlehem.
Herod was filled with wrath against the wise men, though they had done nothing wrong, and in his malice, fury, and envy he ordered the slaying of children who had done nothing at all wrong or sinful. Nevertheless, these children were not exposed to any evil, but were rather deemed worthy of incorruptible crowns by God; for everyone who is wronged by men in this world receives justification from God, the good and just Judge.
“Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
Rama is an elevated place in Palestine; this place had been given to the tribe of Benjamin for an inheritance. Benjamin was the son of Rachel, born of her after Joseph.
When the time came for Rachel to give birth to Benjamin, she suffered greatly in her labour and died near to Bethlehem; hence, Rachel was buried in Bethlehem, and one may see there her tomb to this very day.
The prophet therefore calls Bethlehem Rachel, and says that her mourning and weeping could be heard on the heights – which is the meaning of the name “Rama”; lamentalion, he says, and weeping, Rachel, that is, Bethlehem, weeping for her children.
“But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph in Egypt, saying: Arise, and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel. For they are dead that sought the life of the Child.”
Judgement fell, and right soon did it fall, upon Herod for his shameless infanticide, and ﬁtting punishment was meted out to him. He died a tortorous and ignominious death; plagued by infection and dysentery, shaken by convulsions, and suffering from such maladies that he began to putrefy even before his death. Thus the unspeakable villain met his end, unrepentant.
“Who arose, and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the room of Herod his father, he was afraid to go thither.”
Herod the Great left three sons: Philip, Antipas, and Archelaus. He bequeathed the title of king to Archelaus, while he set up the other two as tetrarchs. Saint Joseph was afraid to venture into Judea because Archelaus was of very similar temperament to his father.
“And being warned in sleep retired into the quarters of Galilee. And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was said by prophets: That He shall be called a Nazarene.”
“Nazarene” is variously interpreted to mean “a Leader,” “the Holy One of God,” and “a Blossom.”
Thus, is our Lord called the Holy One of Israel, and the Prophet Daniel refers to Him as the Holy of Holies. Isaias speaks of a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a blossom from his root; and in the Song of Songs the very Lord Himself is represented as saying of Himself, I am a flower of the plain, a lily of the valleys.
As for us, brethren, who have been deemed worthy to see and to worship the Holy One of Israel and to celebrate the appearance of Jesus Christ our God, Who for our sakes became man, let us not go back to our former way of life; let us not return to the murderous tyrant, that cruel persecutor, our enemy, foe and adversary, the devil; neither let us follow that wide and broad way that leads to destruction!
Rather, as wise men – and women – let us return to our own country, which is spiritual and heavenly, by way of the straight and true and royal road, and flee from the evil ruler of this world. Let us loathe the city of this world which is in his possession, and let us despise all wickedness and unrighteousness.
As we believe and preach the great deeds of God and the divine miracles and mysteries which the Lord, the Lover of mankind, wrought for the sake of our salvation, and as we adorn ourselves with virtues and righteousness and walk the narrow and often difficult path of the Gospel, let us strive to reach the blessed and everlasting life by always doing that which is well-pleasing to Christ our true God and Saviour; and unto Him, as our own precious gifts do we bring glory and dominion, honour and adoration, now and forever.