Matthew 2 tells us of wise men who seek out and pay homage to the newborn king. They shower Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh. But were these the gifts on Jesus’ wish list?
You see, Matthew 2 tells us another story as well. Maniacal King Herod will not tolerate any threat to his power. After hearing about a newborn king in Bethlehem “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” (2:16b). It’s horrifying. Countless families were torn apart. Yet, Jesus and his family are spared. An angelic messenger instructs them to flee.
This event is deeply disturbing on many levels. In particular, I’ve thought, “That’s all well and good for Jesus to be spared, but why wouldn’t God save ALL of Bethlehem’s children?” While I’ve found no satisfactory answer, Dr. Craig Koester illuminates something else about this story. He reminds us that Jesus was delivered from Herod’s murderous rage, but Jesus’ reprieve from the Roman Empire’s brutality was only temporary. In a few short decades, Jesus would be murdered by Rome, executed in a shameful crucifixion. Jesus does not escape. Jesus is not spared. With the mothers of Bethlehem, Jesus’ mother must also endure unspeakable grief.
The coming of Christ, God made flesh, reveals the depth of God’s love for us: to be with us, save us, and forgive us. But in Matthew’s Gospel, Christ’s coming also reveals the depth of humanity’s lust for violence.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were fine gifts. But I wonder if Jesus’ wish list today includes something far more valuable. Might it include the handing over of our tools of violence – our actions, words, and desires? Do we have the courage to lay these down before our crucified king?
See you Sunday…