A Last Thought about Responses This Christmas Season

January 3, 2022

Christmas is a season of family, love, peace, and joy.

Even in the midst of the pandemic – the wonder of the season endures.  

You may have made the Advent journey with me this year as we reflected on the responses of those first witnesses to the divine activity in that first century narrative regarding the Christ Child’s birth. 

You may have considered which responses to this Child resonate most nearly resonate with you as you, too, approached the nativity scene once more with those long ago people in Bethlehem. 

And for some, this is where Christmas ends.  

Then, like the shepherds, once the celebration is over, we go back to ‘normal.’
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BUT, the Christmas season continues for 12 more days, ending with Epiphany and the belting out of “We Three Kings of Orient Are” as we muse over the symbolism of their strange gifts

We remember the wisemen, but we often overlook the three-fold drama occurring as more respond to the birth of the Holy Child.

Perhaps we overlook the drama present kind of wrecks the Christmas mood. 

BUT there is a lot to consider if we will just take the time…..

So…..symbolism aside and warm and fuzzies aside…..

What is left to consider in the final days of Christmas?

The account is written in Matthew 2:1-18 so I won’t rehash it here; but I have some thoughts….. 

Herod the Great was a Roman political puppet, though fortunate enough to have Mark Antony (yep Cleopatra’s boyfriend) as his patron for a while.

Herod was not a ‘real’ Jew, as far as the people of Israel were concerned.. but rather an Idumean

He tried to walk the line between serving Rome with relevance and credibility, while maintaining control over his ‘own people.’ Much of this ‘line walking’ involved undertaking building projects to win points on both sides, while raising up the Jewish religious leaders within his realm.  

Things were fairly peaceful for most of his 33 year reign until Caesar Augustus wavered in his support of Herod for a while and Herod’s innate insecurities and paranoia began to surface; escalating to the point that he executed his wife and three sons, declaring them unfaithful and seditious.

But even these executions did nothing to reduce his paranoia, indeed his neuroses escalated. This condition, combined with his deteriorating health, created a perfect storm for what would follow:

Imagine how Herod must have felt when the wisemen came to town!  

They weren’t just three guys on camels, they would have had an impressive procession as they came to pay tribute to the King of the Jews.

They were following basic political protocol; there was a new king of a foreign nation. They came to pay homage to him as they would have done to any ruler.  

Initially Herod must have felt affirmed because he thought he was the King of the Jews!

But nope, the king the wisemen sought was a child! 

And when the new king wasn’t in a palace? No problem. Just let us know where he is; need to get in early, make political points, then go home.  

What greater disgrace was there than to have to step aside and watch foreign dignitaries go in search of another king who lived just 6 miles away in Bethlehem; right under Herod’s nose!

Herod’s response? 

Feelings of paranoia. 

His power was his identity.

Drama is building and the wisemen were clueless!

The wise men were interpreters of dreams as well as astrologers. So, when they dreamt that they were not to return to Herod prior to going home, as protocol would have otherwise dictated, they took the message seriously!  

Unfortunately, according to scripture, their detour led to tragedy; it fed into Herod’s paranoia. 

Without the wisemen’s ‘reconnaissance’ Heord wouldn’t be able to identify a specific enemy.  

Herod’s response to increasing threats to his power? Destruction without reason.

The wisemen had done the math for him. The child was 2 or younger, and obviously male; and the horror of the massacre of the innocents emerged.  

Some historians question the probability of the tragedy as it didn’t make it into secular history books.  

Some feel that if there were a slaughter of toddlers and infants it would have been written about. 

They overlook the fact that Bethlehem probably only had a population of 250-300 people; the number of children within the ‘threatening’ age range would have been very small.  

How often do such ‘insignificant’ horrors in our time not ‘make it in’ the books? Or become so easily forgotten.

This was a horrific loss remembered by Bethlehemites, but within the culture of the time, no big deal. Besides it was totally in keeping with other of Herod’s atrocities.

Still, we are horrified to think that God would allow such a thing – but did God do so?  

Was this horror not rather the consequence of human choice?  

When Herod heard about the young king, and when  his own scribes and priests read him the scripture, hiss response could have been so different. He could have gone to worship the One Whom the Jews had been waiting for, but to do so would have been to abdicate personal power and made him weak. 

Again: Herod chose to respond with destruction for the sake of self-preservation.

This is how wars begin. 

This is how bullies are born.  

It’s the response rising from the insecure need to be the most powerful and the best at any cost.

Then there is Joseph, Mary’s husband; a perfect foil for Herod.

By now, Joseph and his young family were living in a house in Bethlehem; he was surely employed in order to provide for his family. 

Then Joseph had another dream.

He responded without hesitation to God’s command as he once again uprooted his life in order to do what God commanded.

He once again became an instrument bringing life, regardless of the impact on his identity and sense of control

And this is how the Christmas season ends: with opportunities to respond to Christ with choices leading to life or death.  

And I often wonder how such things relate to us.  

When do we, like Herod, feel threatened and lash out against others?  

  • Think of all that has gone in the last few years and how our reactions to situations are often death dealing rather than life affirming.  
  • Do we ever consider the consequences of our choices?  
  • We cleverly called these consequences ‘collateral damage,’ but identities are diminished, futures cut short, and lives lost, all so that we can retain power and control.

Perhaps we are like the wisemen.  

  • We do what is expected, but no more.
  • We go about our lives without much concern for those we leave behind. 
  • Do we ever feel compelled to do more than watch when tragedy unfolds on the evening news?  
  • Do we ever have skin in the game?

When are we like Joseph in choosing costly obedience? 

  • Are we ever willing to offer to help others even if it disrupts our lives and plans?  
  • How do we respond to those in profound need?

These are the questions which arise as the Christmas season ends; questions that we grapple with as we study the life and teachings of Christ in 2022.

And to God be the glory!  AMEN. 

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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