Matthew 2:13-18 13Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16When 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 that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last Sunday and on Christmas Eve, I promised to speak more about the mean king, and what happened after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Our pageants are very good about trying to get everything together in one place, to tell the whole story, but the truth is that all those things likely did not happen all in one night. Our songs speak of the shepherds following a star, but there’s nothing in the Bible about the shepherds even noticing the new star that Matthew tells us the magi had noted from halfway across the world. The shepherds certainly saw something, but it wasn’t a star. It was an angel, and then an army of angels, and what the angel had to say was all it took for them to hurry down into the city to find the child wrapped up and placed into the safety of the manger to rest after birth.
The star was pretty much unnoticed by the people in Bethlehem, because it wasn’t in their line of sight. It didn’t catch the corner of their eyes because it didn’t happen over there (to the north) or over there (to the south) or over there (to the west) or over there (to the east). For the people in Bethlehem, the star would have appeared right up there (straight overhead), and unless you were staring straight up you would have missed it, and unless you saw it appear, you probably would have thought it had always been there.
But the people who lived at the other side of the world, people who studied the stars all the time noticed, because for them the star wasn’t right up there (overhead). For them, the star down closer to the horizon. Some believe that what they saw may actually have been the convergence of the planet Jupiter and a kingly star called Regulus, and then with another bright planet, Venus. Put all of this together and the magi believed they had seen signs that pointed to the birth of a king in a land far from that which they called home. So, they set out to find that young king.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, they went to the recognized king, to Herod, and asked for more information. Herod consulted his own people who were supposed to know such things, and they came up with Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah, the king, was to be born, and Herod sent the magi on their way to find the young king, along with instructions to bring back word when they found him, because, supposedly, he wanted also to worship the young king.
But as our youth noted last Sunday in their program, Herod didn’t really want to worship Jesus. They nicened it up a little bit, because we can’t really imagine how awful Herod’s orders would be. Not only was Herod uninterested in worshiping the new king, he wanted to get rid of that new king. He didn’t want a new king threatening his power, his dynasty, his importance. When the magi heeded the dream not to return to Herod, Herod was incensed, and since he knew he’d have no way of finding the correct child on his own, he decided he’d just have to kill them all.
So, into my message on Christmas Eve, and onto my Facebook page, and again today I’ll repeat: God come into an occupied land with a jealous king who has minions who cannot think for themselves and act with honor rather than loyalty.
Herod sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill the babies in and around Bethlehem, all of them who were two years old and younger. I’m willing to bet that the babies were not all that died. I’m willing to bet that parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles—and grandmas and grandpas—died, too, trying to keep their young from being murdered.
Could you have been one of those soldiers, killing those babies—along with those who tried to defend them?
But we do that in other ways. We might stand loyally by family members when we know they’ve done wrong. We might stand with political party leaders who unapologetically pass legislation that endangers the lives of children, the elderly, the poor, or the helpless who cannot speak for themselves. How do we stand with honor, rather than blind loyalty?
Last week, a father in Superior stood up to his grown son who had stolen several items… I do not know either of them, but I admire the honor the father displayed. I’m guessing this father had plans for his son that were compromised by what has happened. I’m quite sure the son had plans of his own that can no longer be realized.
What plans did Joseph and Mary have for Jesus? (In his growing up years, before his ministry…) I’m quite certain they didn’t expect to have to go running off to Egypt because the king suddenly wanted to kill the child. And what would they say after they came back, and Jesus realized he had no close cousins his own age, and he heard the stories of those soldiers and the mayhem they brought to his birthplace? Why didn’t they warn everyone else to get out of Bethlehem while they had the chance? Maybe they couldn’t quite imagine the reality of the tragedy either… until it happened. Maybe they fled because they were told to flee, never imagining the horror that would occur after they’d left. Maybe they avoided Bethlehem when they returned not only to avoid the other Herod, but to avoid the memories—and the stories.
Maybe they had planned to live forever in the city of David, but they could no longer do that.
Sometimes, we need to change how we see ourselves, and how we tell God’s good news, because someone like Herod makes our original plans impossible. Sometimes we need to change because someone else comes to fulfill the role we thought was our own. Sometimes we need to change because no one else will do what ought to be done. Sometimes we realize that our loyalty which was honestly given has become misplaced, because the one on whom we placed it somehow strayed…
No one is perfect—except God! So we trust God to forgive our errors, and to lead us on truer paths as we move forward. We trust God to inspire us to change when we need to change, to be better reflections of God’s light in a world where too many focus on darkness. Let God’s light shine true through you and through me, in the name of Jesus Christ, our savior and king. Amen