Over Christmas we have been reading Luke’s gentle rendition of the Jesus story. Today we step into the adult’s only version of the story as told by Matthew. We leave behind the all-inclusive family photograph of Luke and find ourselves immersed in the violence and noise of the real world.
David Lose, writes: “And that is what is at the heart of Matthew’s darker, more adult-oriented story of Jesus’ birth: the promise that it is precisely this world that God came to, this people so mastered by fear that we often do the unthinkable to each other and ourselves that God loves, this gaping need that we have and bear that God remedies.”
Fear sits at the centre of this story. Herod rules and acts out of fear, the fear that someone somewhere is plotting to take away what he believes is his – the kingdom over which he ruled with fear. He had many good reasons to fear others, everybody from the Romans, his brothers and his political enemies. There were plots and subplots on the go all around him all the time. He was aware of the chatter about the Messiah, the long expected king of the Jews who would regain the autonomy of the Jews at his expense.
Herod was no dummy. He had done his homework. He knew the details about this King. In his discussion with the visiting dignitaries from the east, Davis notes, “Hearing that a ‘child king of the Jews’ is being born, Herod inquires among the religious scholars where ‘the Christ’ is being born. It is Herod, in this story, who makes the connection between a child king and the Christ.” He is fully aware what the story is about and is proactive, wanting to nip it in the bud long before it gets out of hand.
It is interesting that Matthew uses the visiting philosophers as the means for Herod to find out about Jesus. It is always interesting how much tyrants, despots and governments do not know about what is going on under their watch despite the intricate intelligent networks they may put in place. Jesus had been born some months before the eastern travellers arrive. If the Gospel writers are to be believed there had been some out of the ordinary activity on or about the day of his birth which, one would have thought, would not have gone unnoticed by Herod’s underlings or Roman informants. The census was a major political undertaking. All security precautions would have been in place. People would have been watching for the unusual. Yet they missed the birth of the Christ child, the single greatest threat to Herod’s reign.
It reminds me of the stunt pulled by ‘The Chasers’ tv team in 2007 at APEC in Sydney. ‘The Chasers gang made a mockery of security at the APEC conference held in September in Sydney Australia, and left Aussie police red faced. One hundred and sixty million dollars was spent on security for the conference attended by many world leaders, including the US President, but the Chasers gang in a fake motorcade with joke ‘insecurity’ badges and a Bin Laden look alike drove to within metres of George W Bush’s hotel, but could have driven right to the hotel, as they were not stopped at any security checkpoints.’
We live in a world ruled by fear and the desire for safety and security. We allow governments to plunder our privacy and our rights with draconian laws and security measures out of fear. Fear is not life giving. It simply takes away the possibility of life for all. The measures we give away our freedom to do not ensure safety or security. They simply short circuit life.
The three wise men follow a star, across many borders into a foreign land. Theirs is a journey of hope and possibility tinged by some anxious moments at border crossings, on the road and more. They had divined, imagined, the future in the star or the comet and set out to find the child born to be king. They had studied the meaning of the star and the hope of Israel and were able to join the dots as to the coinciding importance of the event. They stepped out in faith and took the risks necessary to know for themselves the truth of the story.
When they arrived at the home where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were, they were filled with joy. What they had imagined as possible was indeed true. What they had studied as the hope of Israel was present in the world and the world would not be the same again. Joy, not happiness was theirs, that quiet, deep sense of all is right with the world overcame them and left them assured, not only in terms of their foreseen truth but of the truth of prophecy and hope. At that moment they saw the future more clearly than everbefore and went home, like the shepherds on Christmas day, rejoicing at what they had experienced.
On this Epiphany Sunday may we see through the fear drummed up for us by governments and the media,the ‘awful-isers’ as Michael Leunig calls them. May we begin to see as the foreigners were able to see, God shining above the world and the child king, the Anointed, loose in our world in the lives of the innocent, those who do not look like us, those from foreign lands, those who are immigrants and refugees, those without homes or jobs and those who simply are amongst us as neighbours and fellow travellers.
May we see God shining out through the world in every creature abounding in nature, the resources we have to care for and share.
May we overcome our fear of losing what we have, and unlike Herod, take steps to share what we have with others in the innocence of childlikeness. May we walk in the footsteps of a God who gave up all to become a small vulnerable child in a violent world, without fear of losing the divine identity, full of the joy of being human. Amen