I am reading through Matthew this Christmas season, and although I don’t mean to skip over the genealogies, I am just not finished with what I want to write about them yet. I know a part of me needs to find the mystery again. Today is of the story of the wise men visiting Jesus when he was a toddler, and Herod’s attempt to destroy this young boy – yet God, always ahead of the power curve – tells Joseph to go to Egypt.
I have to think about that a bit. It reveals a few key things:
1. There are definite power structures that oppose the things that God is doing in the world
2. God is not ignorant of these things, nor is he ignorant of the people through which they come
3. God is going to protect that which is important for his plan and purpose, so that things happen on his timeline
4. Nothing can stop the really important things, which is in this case, protecting Jesus
Now, what we never do in the Christmas story is focus on all the collateral that comes with Herod’s decision. The camera’s lens, the author’s focus, is on the hero of the story, this little child who wise men from the east travel to see. Already, under the age of two, just the mere knowledge of his presence is causing panic in the heart of kings. Already, they are threatened and reverting to what their ancestors have done all through history: kill off the challenge to the throne. Don’t seek the Lord to see what he is doing, just protect your own interests.
In our 21st century mindset when anything that takes innocent lives or brings destruction to those who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it becomes the subject of our outrage and cry for justice. Yet here, we barely make mention of the many young boys that were killed nearly two years after Jesus was born, in Herod’s thirst to protect his throne:
Matt 2:16 “When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, who were two years old and under…”
In our 21st century mindset, we would look at this and ask “how could a god save one baby and let all these other die? How could that god be good?”
And we would get stuck here, just like we get stuck look at all the injustice in the world today with child abuse and slavery and the mistreatment of refugees. Please do not hear me wrong on this: those are things that we should fight to make right. We should cry out for leaders to do things differently, for what is important to take precedence. We should expect them to not ignore the vulnerable for the sake of their own gain. That is not my point today though.
I guess I wonder why we never ask this question of the Christmas story? Oh sure, we paint King Herod as the bad guy, but today I have a different thought. Today I question why we never get frustrated at the chief priests and teachers of the law who told Herod that the Messiah was to born in Bethlehem. Why did they not counsel him to let things be? Why did they not paint a picture of how good this was to be, God being faithful to his promise for Israel? Were they afraid, fearful too? I’m pretty sure by that time they were “in bed” so to speak with not only Herod but also the Romans. Blind and deaf to the things God was really doing.
And because of that, many families lost their little boys that year, and I am sure the heart of God wept right there with them, because that wasn’t supposed to happen either.
It all happened at the hands of a powerful king who could only think about his own skin, his own rule and power, and the rule of his son in the days to come. We need to remember that what we see happening today, around the world in our nation and others as well, has been going on since the beginning of time. We are foolish to think it can ever really stop fully, at least in this age.
What God is doing might seem to have “left the country” – but just like Joseph and Mary returning to the land with Jesus years later, in all reality it was just waiting for the right time. The plans of God will keep growing, keep developing, right along side the power structures and people that think its harmless because they cannot see it.
There will probably still be collateral damage, my friends.
My challenge to you is to not get stuck focusing there, asking “why did God allow that??”. Now, I’m not going to give you some platitude that “everything happens for a reason” — because those of us who have lived through hell and back know that in the midst of it, whatever bigger reason seems paltry and fake and downright cruel. That collateral damage is way often due to corrupt power structures, greedy people, or our own human selfishness and ignorance. Bad decisions, made out of our own hurt. There’s no excuse but its the way it is. It sucks.
The reality is that whatever it is – it won’t stop the mystery of what and how God moves to reveal himself to the world. It didn’t, nearly 2000 years ago, and it won’t now.
Take courage, my friends – the purposes of God to redeem a world from its own pain and corrupt ways WILL NOT STOP. I know this probably doesn’t answer the “why” for the pain in your own life, the hardships you have gone through, but I hope that in midst of it you can take a step back to see the mystery and hold onto the hope that He is still working.
May the mystery of it all be your delight this Christmas.