Reading for Epiphany: Matthew 2:1-12
Peace be with you!
We have two choices in life: 1) to be frightened by the unknown and by God’s power in the world or 2) to accept God’s embrace and love. For those of us who accept God’s embrace and love, we embark on a journey without many clear directions or a clear purpose other than going where God calls us to be. God does not promise the safest path or the most cushioned lifestyle; he sends us into the darkness and the wilderness to find his lost sheep. However, there are individuals who are scared of God’s power in the world, a power which threatens their own power over others. To accept God means to let go of the things of this world and to follow a path that we may not know or understand, whose ultimate direction is unknown. God takes us on an alternative journey in order to lead others to his good news in Jesus Christ.
Matthew 2:1-15 juxtaposes these two ways of thinking. First, King Herod is introduced as someone who feels threatened by the Messiah—a toddler King of the Jews. King Herod will do anything in his power—even killing innocent little boys—to prevent this “king” from having any authority. Second, the wise men avoid going back to King Herod in order to protect the child. The wise men change their routes to go home and embrace a new journey through the Messiah.
King Herod hears about three visitors in Judea who are inquiring about the Messiah: who is he? (Matthew 2:2). The three visitors are called magi or wise men and may have been scientists who study the stars. The wise men have observed a new star in the sky and have followed it to Jerusalem. Based on their question, the wise men had some knowledge of Numbers 24:17, which predicts a king rising out of the line of Jacob. Of course, King Herod has no idea who they are talking about and calls upon the chief priests and scribes to find out about the Messiah (Matthew 2:4). The chief priests and scribes tell King Herod what the scripture says:
“In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel’” (Matthew 2:5-6 NRSV).
This information poses a threat to King Herod, because the Messiah is the true king of the Jews. The Messiah is posing a real threat to King Herod who has authority from the Roman Empire to rule over Judea. If this Messiah is king, how will King Herod keep order? King Herod lords over his subjects rather than serving their interests. King Herod is a cruel and jealous king who will do anything to protect his reign. By contrast, Jesus is a king who will eat with sinners, heal the sick and disabled, feed the poor, and comfort the needy. Jesus will reveal God’s mystery over his lifetime. In Matthew 20:25, Jesus denounces kings such as Herod. These two kings are juxtaposed against each other, setting the stage for what is to come.
King Herod sends the three wise men to find the Messiah to pay their respect and asks them to come back to tell him where they found the baby boy so he can do the same (Matthew 2:8).
The wise men go on their way to find and pay respect to the Messiah by following the star (Matthew 2:7, 9). When they find Mary with toddler Jesus, the wise men are overcome with joy and give him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11). As they prepare to leave, the wise men are warned through a dream not to go back to King Herod and to go back home a different way (Matthew 2:12). Although the wise men practice a different faith tradition, God leads them by a star to Jesus, which changes their course in the future. It is no longer about astronomy or science for the wise men. The journey changes their directions and leads the wise men to a new understanding of life and the knowledge of in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, though they may have not understood the impact he would have on the world.
By contrast, King Herod refuses to embrace God’s light in the world and feels threatened by a baby/toddler king. Before he sends them on their way to find the Messiah, King Herod asks the wise men when they first observed the star in the sky (Matthew 2:7b). This tells King Herod approximately how old the Messiah is.
When the three wise men do not return to Jerusalem to inform him where the Messiah is, King Herod orders all boys under the age of two to be killed (Matthew 2:16). Because he is afraid, King Herod is cruel, and he attempts to aim his cruelty at the Messiah and at anybody else who gets in the way. King Herod views the Messiah as a threat who will be able to overthrow his kingship for he will be the true King of the Jews.
Kingship means sometime different to God than it does to the kings of the world. To the kings in the world, kingship means political power and riches, while to God, kingship is the responsibility of tending to the needs of the people, his children who will follow Jesus.
Jesus escapes the cruelty of King Herod when Joseph, his father, gets a visit in a dream from angel who tells him to take his family to Egypt and to remain there until King Herod dies (Matthew 2:14-15). Jesus escapes death for the first time, because it is not yet his time.
God gives us an alternative route in life—a chance to believe in something bigger than ourselves. We can choose to live in fear or to embrace God’s love for us. Jesus does not enter the world with the promise of an easy life if we follow him. Mothers and fathers have and will always fear for the safety of their children, and they have and will question why God allows some children to die too soon. Jesus even says families will divide over the sake of his name (Luke 12:49-53). Jesus says the world will be at war with itself before the end times. Jesus, the Messiah, does not make the world a safer place. However, Jesus promises that the challenges of this world are only temporary. Through Jesus Christ, we are promised eternal life—entrance into the Kingdom of God. We are promised to see God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in heaven where there will be no pain and suffering. As long as we believe in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who comes from God the Father, we will see the Triune God in his glory and be welcomed home in his kingdom.
Come, O Lord, come!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for protecting us from the cruelty in the world, like you saved Jesus from King Herod. Help us to follow the path that you are leading us to follow, even in our confusion and frustration. Guide us in the wilderness where the world plots against us. Remind us that you have a plan greater than us. Thank you for guiding and leading us through the wilderness. Amen.