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Christmas: The Nightmare After Christmas

By James A. Harnish

 Matthew 2:13-23Hebrews 2:8-18

It's a strange time, isn't it -- these "Twelve Days of Christmas" which lead to Epiphany. Let's see, today I should be able to expect seven swans to be a swimming from my true love when I get home. Given the disappointing Christmas shopping season, I'm sure you could get a great deal on them in some of the clearance sales. They might even throw a few left over French hens into the bargain.

It's a strange time, only a week since Christmas Eve, since we lit the candles and sang the carols. But already, if you neighbor keeps his lights on at night it looks a little odd. There may be some folks who leave their decorations up until Epiphany, but at our house, about the second or third day after Christmas and it's clean-up time. Have you noticed that after the decorations are taken down the house seems much emptier, much larger, than it did before we brought mat stuff in?

Strange time, this week after Christmas. The weather today contributes to the mysterious, murky time. The gospel lesson for this Sunday is even stranger.

When it comes to the Christmas stories, you can't beat the Gospel of Luke. That's what we read on Christmas Eve. It's so warm, so beautiful, so full of love, joy and human tenderness. I love hearing the children read it on Christmas Eve. Luke's account is like a Norman Rockwell painting on the "Saturday Evening Post."

But we're reading Matthew 2 this year, and that's a very different thing. Matthew, you remember, was a tax collector before Jesus got hold of him and it shows. If Luke reads like the "Saturday Evening Post," then Matthew reads like the "Wall Street Journal." No color pictures, here. Just the cold, bare facts. And let's face it, we'd never have children read this.

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men.

That's almost as violent as the Saturday morning cartoons! Brutal, strange story; the nightmare after Christmas. And it's loaded with textual and historical problems.

The major problem is that there is no external evidence that it ever happened. Matthew's gospel is the only place we find it. That's enough to cause Biblical scholars to ask if this is literal history, history of the Wil Durant variety, or whether it is a figurative account, inspired for a theological purpose, sort of a sanctified Oliver Stone, I guess.

I can't resolve that one for you. I can hear it both ways, but I choose to believe that it actually happened because it sounds so much like something Herod would do. This whole, ghastly business fits Herod like a glove...a glove that actually fits, that is!

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