As I'm looking at the passages for this Sunday (Exodus 2:1-10 and Matthew 2:19-23) I owe a debt of gratitude to Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence's sermon The Girls In The Reeds. You can find it both on YouTube and links thru Day1.org. This sermon helped to stoke the fire of my thoughts on these passages. Phyllis Trible's Texts of Terror, long ago demanded that we listen for the voices of the voiceless when we read scripture. This commitment stirred the fire even more.
When I widen my reading of the passage in Exodus to include 1:8-2:10, it truly becomes a
"text of terror." It begins with a racist speech tainted with fear that these "Israelite people" will become so numerous that they will "join our enemies" and "take over the country" or "escape." It acknowledges the need for their presence, even as it tries to work them to death. This oppressive plan moves from "forced labor" to a secret plan to enlist the midwives in genocide. Thwarted by the midwives, Pharaoh turns to the public, making a royal appeal to violence against the Hebrew infants by the general populace (Exodus 1:22).
Moses' mother hides him from this pogrom for three months. What was it like for her? Did she listen to other mothers wail as their sons were torn from their arms? What is it like to weave a basket and coat it with bitumen and pitch as you watch your son wave his little arms lying in his blanket? To know that this one or two day reprieve may mean nothing?
Switch to Joseph for a moment. Here is the quintessential migrant. On the move for years when you think about it. Run to one place to escape the violence of where you're living (truth be told the number of infants murdered in Bethlehem was probably small...not that it mattered to their mothers); settle in down in Egypt only to hear that it's time to go again. Load up and back to Nazareth. They're building a city at Sepphoris, there will be work there within walking distance.
My point here is that we can hear these tales of God's care and intervention and forget that they come in the midst of horror and murder. Not everyone escaped. God's action does not turn the horror into a Disney film. It does not negate the genocide.
And the good things that will come from these actions are a long way off. Sometimes we act, do brave and good things....like Moses' sister, Pharaoh's daughter, and Joseph...and things don't really change for a very, very long time.
God seems to work this way. I don't understand why. Sometimes it makes me angry. I want things to change now. I want acts of courage to result in more than just another dead hero. But I am also convinced by these stories that God is acting. Like a seed, deep underground, where unseen the shell of the seed is cracking open and roots are going down. These stories point us to the reality of God's presence and activity even in those times in which God seems most absent.
And they can give us courage. Courage to do the right thing on our borders...just as they can give the migrant the courage to keep moving away from violence and toward hope. Courage to push and push for clean water and medical care....just as they give those robbed of these things the courage to keep acting to force the issues.
I believe earnestly in the promises of Revelation; of a God who makes God's home among these healed and redeemed people, wiping their tears and doing away with all pain.
But I also believe in the God who lives among us in the anguish of Lamentations. Who plays the long game, using each act of justice, love, and courage that we can muster to partner with us as God moves all creation toward wholeness and a new world.
I can bear to live in this time of Lamentations only when I claim these truths. When I acknowledge the agony and the anger; the anguish and the truth of what my nation's racism and xenophobia have done and are doing. I look for those small signs that God is on the move. I grieve, I moan, I scream in rage, but I also claim the hope.