Welcome to Wednesday’s Podcast. Our reading today is Matthew 2: 13-23. Today we’ll focus on verses 16:
‘When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time learned from the Magi’
During 2020 we’ve seen how COVID19 has spread across the planet & is changing the way we live – we are now in the middle of the new normal. We’ve also lived through some of the worst racial tensions since the Civil Rights movements started in the USA. And to top it off we’re also living through some interesting political times. The main Russian opposition leader is lying in a German hospital after being poisoned by Novichok. Will the US President Donald Trump secure another 4 years? And what will become of Brexit?
In the early part of Matthew’s gospel we meet King Herod. Picking up the point I made yesterday – he often has a lesser role if any at all in the school nativity. If you’re familiar with traditional Christmas Bible readings you’ll recognise his name.
His presence in the story serves to remind us that Jesus’ birth was into not only a racially divided society – we talked about this yesterday – but also a nation under occupation; of political corruption and tyrannical leadership.
Herod was a political genius. He was of mixed race descent. His mother was an Arab and his father an Idumean who practiced Judaism. Through clever marriages; political deals and just downright genius he secured himself as the power broker between the occupying forces of Rome and the Jewish people and those living in Palestine. He made huge amounts of money for himself and the people he ruled over. His infrastructure projects were legendary – nothing on HS2. But there was a darker side – he became increasingly violent and ruthless. He was a divisive character and became more brutal particularly towards the end of his life. He murdered most of his family and before his death ordered that a whole town be murdered so that there would be mourning after his death.
It seems to me right now that politics feels really divisive. The US elections, Biden vs Trump, or even in our own country the disagreements over how to respond to Covid or Brexit.
There’s a lesson here for us about where we place our faith. Herod used his religious expression to curry favour with the Jewish people. He had his agenda. The religious people on the other hand couldn’t stand Herod. He wasn’t even a proper Jew but they used him because he gave them a voice – he kept them in power. It was a compromise. Both people, Herod and the religious leaders, wanted power.
What caused it? Insecurity. Threat. As Herod began to lose power- he became controlling. As the Jewish leaders felt threatened by losing their power – they reached out to Herod.
And here’s the biggest deal: Jesus turns a power hungry religious establishment and this faux monarch on its head.
By the time the Magi visited, Jesus was in reality most probably a toddler. And Herod was so threatened he ordered the mass murder of a whole village & the surrounding area. Jesus at the tender age of a toddler becomes a political refugee. Just let that sink in!
If you’re watching US politics right now it feels a bit ugly if I’m honest. The truth is that the human heart hasn’t changed. But these passages remind us that it’s precisely this world that Jesus embraces and he steps right into the middle of it walking in the totally opposite spirit. From the moment of his early childhood – he will threaten people and they will look for ways to silence him. Herod started that. The escape to Egypt is God’s way of reversing Israel’s wilderness years – it’s subtle and it’s easily missed – but points to a much bigger picture. It’s saying Jesus is going to rescue his people through the events of the cross and resurrection.
It’s tempting to step back from the news sometimes – just what do we do? We can’t change what happens with the US elections. Brexit is in motion and we can’t do anything about Vladimir Putin. We can’t change the big picture stuff.
But if we’re to remain hopeful in the small stuff – to be a positive witness in the midst of the gloom – there’s a few things we can do. We can temper the story we ingest. Honestly, turn off the news or read it the context that as the song we sing goes ‘he reigns above it all’ – the story played out in the media isn’t the final story. God is working his purposes. We might not see it right now but when we feel threatened we’re to return to the scriptures; the familiar stories of Jesus – even Christmas stories – and see that all of them are full of hope and promise. They remind us that the little baby grows up and takes on the principalities and powers and is victorious. That’s what we have to hold onto.
And honestly, we are not to stop praying for our political leaders – the Bible’s clear on that. It’s not optional whether you agree or not. We’re called to pray!
Father, we pray because you reign above it all. Bring us hope as we pray for the political leaders of our nation. Have your way we pray! Amen
BIBLE READING: Matthew 2:13-23
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.