The Fifth Page for January 4, 2008
If you were to keep reading a bit beyond the gospel selection for this morning, you would come upon the story we often call the “Slaughter of the Innocents”- Herod’s insane scheme to kill all the male children under two years of age born in the Bethlehem region. One commentary said that this genocide is the first appearance of evil in Matthew’s Gospel, but not the last. We remember that later on, the adult Jesus faces a different kind of death sentence, at the hands of another worldly power.
Jesus is born into a world in which evil is real, and bad things happen. There are Herods, who act out of fear, or greed, or madness. As it says in my favourite Sunday School hymn: “Many kinds of darkness , In the world are found—Sin and want and sorrow. So we must shine— You in your small corner, And I in mine.”
We know people who are hurting, who are sad, who are lonely, or in pain. We know of tragedies and crimes and conflicts that are ongoing. We may reflect on our own lives, and feel that the world we live in is pretty much the world into which Jesus was born.
Jesus lived a flesh and blood life in our cruel and bloody world, in which petty tyrants do evil things to protect their own interests. Jesus grew up in our world, in which even religion gets used to justify wrong actions. Jesus grew up in our world, in which the weak, the vulnerable, and the innocent are often abused and poorly used.
We need to know that God is at work in our messy and beautiful and complicated world. There is great hope in knowing that God is with us in the place where we actually live. God is at work, in spite of darkness and evil.
God is at work in Jesus, and in the hearts and minds of Joseph and Mary, who respond to God’s urging to bear this child, to care for this child, and to protect this child from harm, as best they can. This baby changes their lives, and challenges them to draw deeply on their capacity to love, to trust each other, and to have faith.
God is at work in the wise ones from the East, who respond to signs they have seen, and their desire to witness for themselves, the beginning of something new in the world. I love that it is a star they follow, a source of light in the darkness. There are all kinds of theories about planets converging, or novas exploding to make a big light for them to track across the sky- but I prefer the idea of it just being a little star in the sky- bright enough to see, but only if you were actually looking. The wise men find light because they are seeking light. They find what God is bringing to life in the world, because they are willing to search. They leave behind their former lives, and go on a spiritual quest.
I also love that later in the story, they find another way to travel- they go home by another way, to avoid a second encounter with Herod. The wise men defy the wishes of powerful Herod, who was expecting them to report back to him with the location of the new born.
This is a powerful image- and a clue to how God is at work in the world. God offers us choices. We can choose a different way to go. We do not have to go along with things we know are evil. We can tell the difference between the good way to go, and the bad way to go, and we can choose the good.
The Fifth Page is a ministry of Rev. Darrow Woods at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario. Each week the Fifth Page will deliver content and background that did not make it into the Sunday sermon. Please visit: http://trinityunited.com