"Now after the wise men 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.” Matthew 2:13
This is the opening verse of the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Christmas. It is the story of Joseph being warned in a dream by God to take Mary and the infant Jesus to Egypt because Herod realized he had been tricked by the wise men and in his anger sought to destroy Jesus, this new born King of the Jews.
It is the story of Herod trying to protect his power and authority from being challenged by this infant king.
Because he can’t be sure just which baby is the one to fear, Herod ordered all of the children two years old and younger to be killed.
We know this story as “The Slaughter of the Innocents." Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt until Herod died, and God came to him again in a dream and told him it was safe to return to Israel.
We hear this story literally days after celebrating Christmas, and we all wonder, "Wow! That escalated quickly! What happened to 'Silent Night' and 'Joy to the World' and all those Christmas Carols we love?"
This is a brutal reminder for us that Jesus was born into this world — a world filled with power, greed, suffering and sin. We realize that for all the wonder and delight of our Christmas celebrations, the purpose of the birth of our Savior is to rescue us from our power, greed, suffering and sin.
This all occurs in the midst of our Twelve Days of Christmas, and for all the ways that the Twelve days of Christmas have been commercialized and misused, they actually begin with Christmas Day and continue to the Epiphany on Jan. 6.
But for most of us, Christmas seems to be over sometime mid-afternoon on Dec. 25 (or on Dec. 26 at the very latest). We bag up all the discarded wrapping paper and boxes and move on to New Years and all the other items that occupy our lives.
We often find ourselves having been so busy preparing for our Christmas celebrations that we miss out on actually being “present” with family and loved ones. Then suddenly we declare it over and move on, wondering what exactly took place.
Maybe this tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas is something we should invest more energy in, so that we can take in all that Christmas has to offer us.
It is important for us to recognize that what we are really celebrating is “Emmanuel,” a Hebrew word that means “God with Us." God taking on flesh and blood in the birth of the Christ Child — to be present with us. Not merely for those Silent Nights and our experience of heavenly peace, but also in the midst of our modern day equivalents to Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents. Emmanuel — God with Us — is precisely what is needed when we are lost in our power, greed, suffering and sin.
So let us celebrate this Emmanuel, not just on Christmas, or even during these Twelve Days of Christmas, but every day because our world and each one of us so desperately needs it.
"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders. Scott Jacob is the pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Two Harbors.