1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)
A treasured part of the story of Jesus’ incarnation…his birth… is the story of the Magi coming to worship him. You know of course we assume there were three magi based on the gifts that were brought and that the magi were Persian wise men whose faith taught of a coming messiah who would put an end to evil. Their study of the stars led them to believe that this messiah had come and the star would lead them to him. And so, in Bethlehem, they came to worship this small child.
And so we in the 20th century have harmonized this beautiful event into the birth narrative with the wise men arriving on the night of His birth, camels and gifts being laid before him in the manger. But this harmonization leaves something out!
16When 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. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18“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.” – Matthew 2:16-18 (NIV)
Yep, we leave this out… what some label as the “Slaughter of the Innocents” and the weeping and wailing that takes place after the magi come and worship Jesus.
Is it simply because we don’t want to tarnish the birth narrative of Jesus. Or is more because of what it reveals in us?
My family, due to the age of our children, have come to treasure the Harry Potter novels and films. In one of these (The Order of the Phoenix), Harry witnesses a vicious attack on his best friend’s father through the eyes of the snake. This shift in point of view is critical to the plot of the text and fully understanding the story. I wonder if we ought to shift our viewpoint of this Biblical Narrative. Instead of seeing the story as a a third person observer or even as one of the parents, what if we looked at this story from the eyes of Herod?
Of course, we don’t want to do that? For some reason we are reticent to look through his eyes because of the evil we see there. If we look through his eyes at this story, we might just have to admit that there is evil that resides within us… that we too might order the slaughter of hope and possibility in order to preserve our kingdom, our pretense at power and authority.
And no matter how much we can claim to be a victim of this kind of evil, dispassionate ignorance impacting our own lives, we can’t help to admit that we do it to others.
And this is where it gets a little bit tricky. If I start to really apply this, not only does it impact me, but it will impact you in some way—for this narcissistic evil resides inside all of us – no matter how much like David we ask God to search our hearts and see that there is no evil within us (Psalm 139:23-24), we know that there is… that like Paul we are “the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). And while I may readily admit to being the chief of sinners, I get a little touchy when someone else points out my sins.
And yet, Christ, having the mind of God, knew all this and still loved and loves us. And despite the slaughter of hope and opportunity by our own evil- there in lies the hope- that God still loves us and accepts us, while seeking to drive this evil from us even as He did with the Gadarene demoniac.
No, I don’t like this story, because it searches me and reminds me that there is evil in me… but that’s exactly why Christ took on human form and came to be in Bethlehem in the first place. As Paul wrote: Faith, Hope and Love Abide, these three! (1 Cor. 13:13).
Prayer: Lord, I don’t like this part of the Christmas story…but it’s there. I don’t like that the evil within me was a part of your purpose on earth. But I am glad that despite my evil ways, you still love me and that you have promised to drive this evil from me. Help me to release it to you…Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran