This series is wrapped up with an Epiphany carol – one that tells the story of the visit of the Magi to Jesus, yes, but also calls for responses from us, the singers. Based on Matthew 2.1-12, give a listen to this message below. (Sorry, the Facebook Live connection didn’t work again today.)
In certain high church traditions, today is marked as the “feast of holy innocents”, that is, the day that commemorates the slaughter of young children undertaken by Herod when he learned that Jesus was to be born King of the Jews. He was a bit insecure, so not wanting any competition from a toddler (!), he had a bunch of young male children killed, in the hope that among them would be this special child (see Matthew 2.16).
The slaughter of innocent children remains fresh in our minds following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps this is a good reason to take a look at a passage of Scripture that often is glossed over by the church: the slaughter of innocent children is a real, if unpalatable, part of the Christmas story. It’s not often part of Christmas plays or pageants, but that ugly side of human nature existed even in the story of Jesus’ birth and early childhood.
Herod clearly did not have a clear picture of this young Monarch-in-waiting, however. It’s understandable that he would have thought that he could outwit a pretender to his throne, but he wasn’t dealing with any pretender here, but Almighty God himself. How does Matthew report it? “When they (the Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod” (Matthew 2.13-15a, NIV).
God was not about to let his plan for the salvation of humanity be thwarted by a man’s insecurity. He spoke to Joseph in a dream and had him take Mary and Jesus to Egypt – a place that was not always safe for Jews to go! – until Herod had died. Surely Herod will have self-satisfyingly assumed his plan to eradicate his competitor was successful. But God had other plans.
There can be times when we think that God’s plans can be thwarted, or at least delayed or set aside, by our actions. But the Lord knows better. His plan to save the human race from sin would not be set aside by any monarch. Still today, his plan to save the human race from sin remains: God’s heart to save us, made in his image, remains as strong as when Jesus was taken to the safe haven of Egypt.
God’s plan to bless and keep you in his perfect peace will not be foiled! As you look toward a new year, may you know God’s blessing and the assurance of his love.
I’m not a big fan of the earlier part of the day. I’d like to be, but it just doesn’t seem to be part of my DNA. But every once in a while, I will wake up at what I not-so-affectionately call “a quarter to stupid”. I used to just find it irritating. More recently, though, I’ve decided to embrace this unrequested wakeup call as having some purpose: I ask God, “Why have you awakened me? Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” – after Samuel in the Old Testament.
This happened to me on Thursday this week. I was tired when I went to bed, but after only about four and a half hours’ sleep, I woke up, and despite my best efforts, could not return to sleep. So I spent some extra time with the Lord, and even walked to the bank machine to make a deposit. While I was walking, and the sun was slowly beginning to rise, I saw a bright star shining in the east. It was the morning star.
Though there were no audible voices, no words written in the sky, I knew this was God speaking. I walked home with assurance of the Lord’s presence. And when I returned home, I sat down to read Scripture. The assigned passage for the day began like this: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him” (Matthew 2.1-2, NLT).
All I could do was shake my head in wonder and praise. It’s not yet the common time of year to be reading the Epiphany story, but my current devotional exercises have me contemplating the incarnation of Jesus in these weeks. And on Thursday morning, as I walked in the chilly darkness, I felt like I was part of the story.
Do you know that all of us are part of the story? Those Gentile soothsayers traipsed a very long distance following that star, and by their entrance into the story of Jesus Christ, they paved the way for us to enter the story of Jesus Christ.
Pay attention to your surroundings. Admire the details as you walk in your community. Listen to the sounds drawn to your ears. You never know when God will speak to your heart, and tell you that you are part of the story.