28 December 2010

Jeremiah 31:15-17

"A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children." (v. 15)


Today is Holy Innocent's Day when Christians remember the slaughter of children in Bethlehem by Herod's soldiers following his anger at the news of Jesus' birth (as told in chapter 2 of Matthew's Gospel). 

Characteristically of Matthew's Gospel, the account makes frequent use of references to Old Testament prophecies, in this case the prophecies of Jeremiah from which our passage is taken. 

The setting of the book of Jeremiah is of course very different and takes place some hundred of years earlier. It's likely that this particular passage comes from a series of prophecies in which Jeremiah is speaking about the return of exiles from the Northern kingdom who had been taken into captivity in Assyria. Although now, says the prophet, there is "lamentation" in Ramah with "Rachel weeping for her children", he goes on to proclaim that the Lord says "there is hope for your future" and that "your children shall come back to their own country" (verse 17). 

For Matthew, this helps to provide a model for what happens to Jesus and the Holy Family, both in their flight to Egypt (away from the threat of Herod's soldiers) and in their subsequent return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23), Joseph's home town where Jesus grows up. Moreover, it reminds us that the ongoing suffering of children and refugees in war-torn countries today is an experience which the Bible records as being shared by Jesus and his family. 

To Ponder

According to Matthew's account, Jesus' family share in the experience of being refugees. How does this help us to understand the vulnerability of Christ's incarnation?

In the midst of our Christmas celebrations, what can we do to remember and support those who find themselves vulnerable as refugees?

Is this an issue that we should be taking up more publicly as part of our faith? If so, what can you do?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.