“The How Telling Us The Why”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
January 9, 2019
“Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’” Matthew 2:7 & 8i
Today we have met to confirm and to celebrate the Good News in Jesus Christ. It is Good News, right? Evil is brought low by the impossible power of a child born to an out-of-wedlock teenage mother. This child, Jesus of Nazareth, will incarnate the unfathomable love of God for wayward humanity. He will grow up to heal the sick, preach good news to the oppressed, forgive sin and seal His power through an unsealed and empty tomb. This is good news and if you have ever confronted the power of evil at work in your life, the church reminds you that despite the darkness of any given moment, goodness prevails. People should be dancing and singing.
But note the treachery of Herod. The wise men told him of the birth of a new king. Indeed, according to them, the very stars in the sky proclaimed His birth. This is no ordinary event and Herod has a great deal to lose. His fear of this newborn king is understandable given his brutal grip on power.
- In 29 BC Herod had his wife, who by all accounts he deeply loved, executed because he suspected her of infidelity – a rumor largely spread by those within Herod’s family who had something to gain from her death.
- In 6 BC two of Herod’s sons were executed for having sympathized with those opposing their father’s reign. Indeed, because of Herod’s ruthlessness it was said, “Better to be Herod’s pig, than Herod’s son.”
- His loyalty to Rome was undisputed and once he had a firm grip on power, he began great building campaigns that included building pagan temples within his region at his own expense.
Having been appointed by Rome as King of Judea, the Jews resented having their king chosen for them. He was not loved, only feared.
What is surprising is not Herod’s fear. It is what verse 3 tells us: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;” Why would Jerusalem be frightened by news of a rival to Herod? I don’t know. Perhaps the political stability bought at the expense of brutality was more comforting than the change promised by God. Is this what holds us back from fully pursuing the justice God demands today? Are we, at some level, afraid of what the Christ child might require of us?
Herod wanted the wise men to go, find the child, and return to tell Herod where the child might be found. We know how this plot ended. The wise men return to their homes another way. What does Herod do? He knows the general area of where Jesus was born. He knows generally when the birth occurred. What does he do with that information?
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
Herod, robed in evil, meant to thwart the will of God. Did he succeed? Did evil in times of old win everlasting victory over the forces of goodness? Can evil prevail against the goodness you carry within yourself? My friends, there is no power ever mounted by Stan himself that can thwart the purposes of God. We will, in short order, meet around this table of the Lord and remember His death that we might celebrate the triumph of His resurrection.
Evil will try to work its treachery. It will attempt to twist and turn until it has snaked its way into your life and fear comes to posses you. So ask yourself this morning what it is you fear the most – problems within the family, troubles at work, finances that keep you up at night, the health of those you love. These troubles may demand your attention. God is not offering us a way to avoid our problems. God is offering us the assurance that goodness triumphs over them all. 1 John 4:18 says it well, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” You are bathed in love, enfolded in its presence, created by its power. Is this not why we cling to the truth that God works all things to the good?
This day when we commemorate the visit of the wise men and take stock of Herod’s evil intent, we are reminded of God’s son having broken His body that we might be whole. Evil may work its wiles but triumph awaits those who have placed their trust in the love of God. Let us pray…
i Matthew 2:1-12
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘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.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “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.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.