Monday, December 27, 2021

Katie Snipes Lancaster

The Nativity
Matthew 2:1-8 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 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.” When King Herod heard this [that Magi came from the east and sought to worship the one born king of the Jews] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Reflection on the Nativity
It’s hard to imagine that after so much Christmas there is yet more. How is there still more story? How are there still more visitors? Yet here after the intimacy of the manger is another set of visitors, ones we always place in our nativity, even though they likely arrived days, months, or even years after Jesus’ birth.

Yep you know who they are. The Magi. The Kings. The Wise Men. We can’t even decide what we will call them, but here they are, on their way to find “the one who has been born king of the Jews.” Naturally after heading west for a long while “following yonder star,” these Magi arrive in Jerusalem and in their great wisdom, go to King Herod, presuming that he would be at the center of all knowledge about who might next ascend to the throne. Maybe not so wise it turns out, since King Herod will ultimately feel threatened by the Magi’s visit, and potential of an as-yet-unnamed infant-king.

In her commentary on the Gospel of Matthew Anna Case Winters reminds us “Herod has no royal blood. He is not even fully Jewish. He is just an opportunistic military commander that the Romans have coopted for their own political agenda. He is a puppet king. Jesus, as Matthew means us to understand, is the true King of the Jews.” No wonder Herod is panicked by the possibility of a legitimate heir to his throne. In that context, it is easy to see how the words “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” might come back to haunt this story in the verses to come. There is something smarmy about Herod’s reply. Our modern day villains like Darth Vader, Wicked Witch of the West, Lord Voldemort, or Nurse Ratched might say such a thing before scurrying off to their lair.

It’s good to know I guess that the gospel’s villains are just as terrible as the ones we imagine in our contemporary epic stories; the gospel penetrates all the power of our most hoped for and our most dreaded storylines. In that way, the gospel can help us to understand this world in which we live. It is no fairy tale. It stands within the hard and holy, the political and social. God understands. God’s story holds it all.

In that way I offer Howard Thurman’s prayer called “The Work of Christmas.” It reminds us that Christmas is not a one-day affair, not even just a season. Christmas is an ever-expanding tale that helps us to see God in our midst today. There is much work to be done. There are always powers and principalities beyond our control. There is always a way to find the God of this story, and to feel called back into active and faithful participation.

Praying the Nativity
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
(by Howard Thurman, 1899–1981)