Matt 2: 1- 18
Like thousands of other families this holiday season, my family and I went to the see the latest Star Wars movie. It was great! Everything you would expect…exciting chase scenes, tearful reunions, snappy repartee, a dangerous journey, and a seemingly impossible quest.
The lead characters have the choice of whether to use their powers and abilities for good, or to succumb to the dark side and use their power for personal gain and control over others – …wiping out all who stand in their way…wiping out those who threaten or question their power and authority.
Most of all, at the heart of every Stars Wars movie is an epic battle of good vs. evil. The light of resistance fighting against the darkness of tyranny. And of course, there are casualties along the way. Don’t worry, I promise, no spoilers! But we all know that in the battles between good and evil, it is impossible for even the greatest hero, to emerge unscathed, unbroken, or untouched.
Our scripture this morning could easily be a Star Wars episode. Wise men are traveling on a dangerous journey on a seemingly impossible quest. They come seeking a young hero who has been prophesied to be “the chosen one”, the one who will save the world. These wise men come seeking a newborn king, so naturally they stop at the palace in Jerusalem to inquire, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”
When the current king, Herod, hears this, “he is frightened…and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod is frightened because, as a puppet king, his main purpose is to placate and serve Rome, the evil empire. Herod is a tyrant who enslaves his own people to complete his huge building projects, including the Temple in Jerusalem.
In the years before Jesus birth, “there had been a lot of resistance, unrest and revolt in Jerusalem, so Rome wasn’t in a tolerant frame of mind. [Herod] knew any [hint] of rebellion would bring crushing retaliation against the city. History tells us that Herod would stop at nothing to assure his position and authority – “assassinating anyone he considered a threat – including his own wife and two of his own sons.” For some time, he has been hearing “rumors that the long awaited liberator, prophesied by Isaiah and others, has been or will soon be born.”
And now these foreign dignitaries appear and confirm all his worst fears…that a real threat to his throne, his position, and his power, has been born. He calls together all the chief priests and scribes and asks them where the Messiah, God’s anointed one, was prophesied to be born. They tell him……in Bethlehem. While a pious man might have greeted this news with hope and joy, Herod only saw it as a threat – a threat to political stability and to his own status as king. “
And so Herod tries to eradicate that threat by ordering all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, to be killed. “And a voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.”
Why is this horrific massacre a part of our Christmas story?
The last time this passage came up in the lectionary, it was in December of 2012….right after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT. I couldn’t even read this passage, much less preach about it. I put it away, and here we are three years later, and there are still children being slaughtered in the streets of our cities, in our schools, and even in our churches, here in our country and around the world.
It’s becoming a common occurrence. Such a common occurrence that we want to turn away and just mentally walk on by. It’s natural to want to turn away from the evil we see in the world, to shut it out, especially when we think there is nothing we can do to stop it. And that is when evil wins. When good people give up hope and surrender to despair.
Why IS this horrific massacre a part of our Christmas story?
It’s so that we can see that this is a story of hope. This story of atrocities against children is showing us what Jesus was sent to fight against, to preach and teach against. Jesus, bringer of light, was sent to fight the darkness within human hearts that creates evil in the world.
Jesus was sent to shine God’s light and lead us away from the fear, greed, selfishness, indifference, hatred, and the misuse of power and authority, that gives birth to evil. Jesus being born is the hope in the midst of the horror in this story. Jesus, light of the world, teaches us that we must start with our own hearts in order to defeat the darkness.
Like our Star Wars heroes, we get to choose how we use our skills and talents, and our power and influence. Will we harm or heal? Will we conquer or surrender? Will we hate? Or will we love.
Jesus preaches empowerment, he teaches us that we all have authority and power over our own hearts – no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in we get to choose our response. And change in the world begins by nurturing love and hope in our hearts.
John Pavlovitz, posted a reflection over Christmas titled, “Just a Trite, Silly, Trivial Reminder about Love,” and in it he writes,
“I am moved to step into the dense fog of grief and fear that seems to have settled upon these days and upon our collective hearts, to remind you that all is not lost. I wanted to lift your weary eyes, which have been so fixed on all that hurts and all that is wrong and ask you to see beyond it, to the place where Love is.
Love is, you know? Love still is.
Despite all the things around that would have you believe otherwise, despite so much evidence to the contrary, it is still doing its sacred work in this place. Love is moving in these very moments. As you breathe so [love] breathes. As you live so [love] lives. [Love] is still out there discovering hidden goodness and noticing beauty in the ordinary and finding reason to dance in suffering.
[Love] is still sacrificing itself and embracing hurt and mending wounds.
[Love] is still there, firmly planted in the center of your chest.
Right now…two people are unknowingly beginning a beautiful lifetime together. … a reassuring hand is being gently placed upon another’s shaking shoulders. … new life is silently being formed within a hopeful mother’s belly. … exhausted parents are pouring themselves out yet again for their children. … songs are being written and memories are being made and laughter is bubbling up. … strangers are exchanging smiles and holding doors open and stopping along the roadside.
In these very moments, people are being encouraged, relationships are being rebuilt, forgiveness is being granted, faith is being found, sobriety is being claimed, friendships are being forged, kindness is being exchanged. Scraped knees are being kissed, disappointed losers are being consoled, nervous proposals are being accepted, second chances are being given, simple victories are being celebrated.”
My one comment to Mr. Pavlovitz would be that there is nothing trite, silly, or trivial about love.
Herod, in spite of all his scheming, eventually died. The Roman Empire eventually fell. Other empires have come and gone. Despots, Dictators, and tyrants, gain and lose power. Eras begin and end. And even in these days when church as we know it may be ending, remember one thing….
Jesus’ light…still shines.
Jesus’ light continues to grow and spread. Jesus’ message of love for one another is needed now more than ever. Love is the greatest weapon we have in the battle against evil. Love is what we offer to one another and love is what we cling to. Love is God’s light in our hearts and in our world.
So, we journey on, on our seemingly impossible quest against great odds. Like the wise men, we look for a sign, we look for God’s sign, we look for God’s star shining in the dark night…
…and we follow…
…faithfully, full of hope in God’s promise…
And may the force be with us! May God’s force be with us all!
 Brian D. McLaren, “Keep Herod in Christmas”; The Christian Citizen, vol. 2, 2015 pg. 12