15 - Joseph, Herod and the Angel of the Lord, Dec 30, 2018

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Galatians 1:11-19

Matthew 2:13-23

My attention has always been drawn in this Gospel to the infants slaughtered by Herod. I have found a ray of hope in this unspeakable tragedy in the prophecy St Matthew quotes from Jeremiah. There, the note of resurrection sounds clearly as the “e-song” of light that the darkness of Herod’s cruelty cannot silence. Jeremiah’s “Rachel weeping for her children” (the name means, “Mother Sheep”, an Ewe) is the Theotokos, weeping over the cruelties of the world, while Her Son identifies completely with these slaughtered infants by becoming Himself the innocent One slaughtered by (a different) Herod on the Cross. By His death He sanctifies these infants, making them “Righteous Ones.” By His Cross, He destroys death and raises them into the eternal Life of His Heavenly Kingdom.

This year, my attention is drawn, however, to Joseph and to Herod, and to the Angel of the LORD.

I am struck by how carefully Joseph protects the Mother and her Son. I see in his actions a complete selflessness. His unquestioning obedience to the Angel of the LORD in everything pertaining to his “wife”, the Holy Virgin and her Son bears witness that Joseph was indeed a “righteous” man. In his diligent protection of Mary and her Son, he is in effect denying himself and losing his own life for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Mary, his “wife”, or rather, his “betrothed,” for Mary the Mother of His LORD, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

This, of course, is in sharp contrast to Herod, the “King” of Israel. Herod’s concern is to “save his life.” Exhibiting all the marks of a toxic narcissist. he sends his soldiers, his own angels that do his word, throughout the land to slaughter all the innocent children three years and under, to protect his kingship, an act of cowardice and cruelty of the highest order.

In whose company would you like to be found: that of righteous Joseph or of narcissistic Herod? That is, would you like to be found in the Church, or in the society of the world? For, we see in Joseph an image of the hierarchs—the bishops and their priests—protecting the Church where the LORD is working in us “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,” that we may know the love of Christ and be filled with all the fulness of God Himself (Eph 3:19-20). In Herod, we see an image of the world, under the authority of the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is working in the children of disobedience” (Eph 2:2).

Let’s contemplate these contrasting images more closely, together also with this “Angel of the LORD”. Who is this angel? And, who is the LORD whose Angel he is? In this connection, let’s contemplate this “energy” or “power” that is working in the Church and the energy or power that is working in the “children of disobedience”. What are these different energies? Whose energies are they? What is their respective character? How is the energy of the Church working in us and what is it working in us? How is the energy of the world working in the children of disobedience and how is it working in them?

The picture of the Holy Family shows Joseph “holding” Mary in the embrace of his protection and care of her and her Child, and it shows Mary “holding” the Christ Child in the embrace of her protection and care for Him. In the center, then, held by Mary who is held by Joseph, is the Christ Child.

Now, the Christ Child is the LORD. He is the pre-eternal God who has emptied Himself to be born of the Virgin as a little child; but He is, even as a babe, still the LORD of all, the Creator of all, the Sustainer of all, in whom and from whom and for whom all things exist. It must be, then, that the Angel of the LORD, who must be Gabriel, the Angel, is the Angel of the Christ Child. He must therefore be guiding and directing Joseph according to the word of the Christ Child even when the Christ was in the womb of Mary, when He was lying in the manger, when He was nursing at Mary’s breasts.

See the picture, then: the Holy Family holds in the center of Joseph’s embrace of Mary and of Mary’s embrace of the Christ Child, the LORD. The Holy Family receives its “holiness” and its guidance and direction from the Christ Child at its center; for, though He is a babe, yet He is still the pre-eternal God. He is sanctifying and directing them for a purpose: to protect Him in His vulnerability as a human infant so that He may “grow and increase in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man,” and, as a man, ascend the Cross and descend into the Tomb, where He, the Light of the world will shine in the darkness, and where He, the Resurrection and the Life, will destroy death by His death and open the gates of Paradise so that all who want to may enter and be restored to their original beauty and to their natural destiny of joy and peace in union with Him, in whose Image they are made, together with His Father and His all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit.

We see in this picture of the Holy Family an image of the Church on two levels. Let’s call the one the “visible” level, and the other the “invisible”.

On the visible level, Joseph is the hierarchy of the Church—the bishop and his priests who serve under the blessing of the bishop—that holds in the embrace of its protective care and guidance the laity, the image of Mary. And the laity, the faithful, hold in their embrace the Christ Child whom they have received into themselves in Holy Eucharist. But, the source of all authority and power in the Church on the visible level is the Christ Child, the Christ who governs and directs, who sanctifies and gives life from within our “midst.”

His Spirit is the energy that is at work in the Church: the Spirit of life, of cleansing, of illumination, of sanctification, deification, raising us from death to life in God and transforming us from flesh to spirit. This energy of the Holy Spirit works in the Church not as the hierarch and faithful do their own thing or act according to the wisdom of their own opinions. It does not work in the Church in disobedience, nor does it produce disobedience; but it works in the Church in the obedience of both the laity and the hierarchs to the WORD of the LORD who is in their midst, the pre-eternal God born as a little child. The Christ Child in our midst, because He is the pre-eternal God working in us to do His good pleasure, which is our salvation, is protecting us from the Herods of the world as we are obedient to Him and not to ourselves, and as we are seeking to do His will and not our own.

This, then, is the same thing happening on the invisible level, where our mind, or our free will is Joseph, our soul is the Virgin, our heart is the manger or the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, that place in us where we are deep beyond all things, that place at the root of our being where we open onto God, that place where the Christ Child is born…and buried, and in the Tomb, opens the gates of heaven deep within us that we may enter and come into the presence of God and into the Image of God in whom we were made, whose joy and peace and eternal life we were made for.

Dear faithful, if this is the mystery we are living in, then we are living in the “energy” that is working in that mystery, and that energy is working in us. It is the energy of the LORD, an energy of light, of life, of peace and joy. But, if in our soul we are living in the world, then we are living in the energy of Herod, an energy whose work is to destroy all that is good and holy in us.

Dear faithful, the simple fact that you are here this morning is concrete testimony to your desire to live in the energy of the LORD working in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful. Therefore, when we leave the Temple this morning, let’s not leave the temple of our heart. Let’s live in the world’s darkness and cruelty from within our heart. Let’s keep the focus of our heart not on the darkness of the world but on the Light of Christ that shines in our darkness, for we have received Him in Holy Eucharist. Let Holy Scripture, the prayers and hymns of the Church, the teaching of the Church be what rule in your heart and mind, for they carry Christ, the Christ who would, if we would let Him and give ourselves to Him, work in us the energy of His Cross and Holy Tomb. Amen!