Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Encounters With Herod

This week's scripture is Matthew 2.

This is Epiphany; the time the Church traditionally celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men to worship the Christ Child. The probably didn't arrive at the manger with the shepherds...all artistic works to the contrary. They most likely arrived (based on who Herod is going to order killed later) some time between the baby's first and second birthday.

They arrived bearing gold (a fitting gift for kings); frankinsense (which has medical properties as well as being used in perfumes); and myrrh (which has multiple uses including medical, ritual, and the anointing of the dead. It was considered worth about 5 times the value of frankinsense).

But on their way, they stopped by the court of Herod. This was a natural decision...Herod was called the "King of the Jews" so one could assume the new king would be born there.

Matthew 2:3 says, "When Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him..." It's an interesting passage. Herod was frightened...so Jerusalem was frightened.

If you've ever been around a tyrant....whether a boss, a parent, or lived in a country where oppression is the order of the day....you'll understand. When a tyrant is frightened, people get hurt. Tenimin Square, Idi Amin, current affairs in Iran and Yemen are examples that many of us could point to to prove this true. And Herod was notorious for his paranoid rage. If Herod is frightened; the Jerusalem is terrified.

Now remember that previously when Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus to the temple for the sacrifice for a new born they did not have money for the normal sacrifice. They offered two pigeons-the poor man's sacrifice.

But now God is going to tell Joseph to pack up his family and run to Egypt. To make the dangerous journey by themselves; establish a new life; survive. How will they do that? And when the time comes to return from Egypt and settle in a new place, Nazareth, how will they do that?

In my opinion the answer to that question is that they will live off the gifts of the Magi.

In all fairness I have to say that many historians believe that the Slaughter of the Innocents never occurred. On the other hand, there are those who maintain that while the numbers reported were way over the top (they estimate that the number of male children in the area surrounding Bethlehem would have been only a couple of dozen at the most), such a small number murdered, when compared to Herod's other cruelties, would hardly rate reporting.

I tend to lean in the direction of this understanding. I do so for both experiencial reasons and theological ones. We all have seen the 'nameless ones' whose torture and death are just written off as 'collateral damage'. In war ravaged Somalia, what does the rape of one child, the death of one old person, the torture of one opposition member....what does it count? It hardly merits notice. It will make no history book.

Theologically what this reminds me is that God came, and comes, to us as one of the 'nameless ones.' God doesn't just come as a tiny baby; God comes as a tiny baby that doesn't matter; one of the ones, who when they're murdered and the slaughter is over, everyone in Jerusalem breaths a sigh of relief and says, "thank God it wasn't worse...just a few babies in Bethlehem...sad of course, but it could have been much worse."

It reminds me that God still comes as one of the 'nameless ones'. The starving on the African continent; homeless person begging on the median strip of West St.; the child prostitute in Thailand; and the neighbor child with the strange bruises we don't want to know about. These are all God coming to us. And you and I are called to be Magi.

We cannot save the world. But we can offer the gifts we do have: money, time, energy, creativity, skills....to combat the work of our "Herods". Because the Magi brought their gifts, Joseph had the where with all to take his family and run. God was at work in bringing the Magi there for that purpose. Joseph's family would make the journey. And along the way, perhaps Joseph would buy their way into a traveling caravan, bribe a warlord for safe passage, purchase food to keep them going.

We need to ask ourselves how we have been Magi? How has our seeking after the Christ caused us to help the "God-Met-In-The-Other'(for that is who the 'nameless ones' are) to escape Herod's cruelty?

Jim Strathdee wrote:

When the song of the angels is stilled
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and the shepherds have found their way home
The true work of Christmas is begun

See you Sunday.


Jeremy said...

Us as magi - prostrating ourselves before God, providing means for sustenance (perhaps) or at least giving rich gifts of ourselves, as (sometimes unwelcome) messengers of God - what an interesting thought. It should also be an empowering thought, in my view, as I hardly see myself as being able to much (or any) of those things very effectively or consistently (if at all).

Whether or not the slaughter occurred (which you clearly explain), another topic you touch on also grabs my attention. There seems to be a lot of fear in this passage, some of which (for Herod) in turn leads directly to violence and for others (Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and the Magi) leads to a hope that God abides and provides. But what about those that suffered under the violence of Herod? Those that were held in fear of what might happen? We don't really know for sure, I suppose.

Speaking of innocents, a baby needs my attention. Peace.

Kara said...

I also would like to know more about the people who suffered under Herod - including those babies and their families if it was true. It seems kind of cruel that the holy family would leave them defenseless. But I guess, what could they do?

But I think this concept of us as the magi is a great way to move forward from the glitz and fun of Christmas and remember that 's not just one day to celebrate, but is the beginning of a much greater story that still hasn't ended.