Second Sunday after Christmas — Rev. Karen Barfield

Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:1-15, 19-23

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”

What a curious question to come from a group of star-gazers from far away Persia!

And what an irritant to King Herod’s quest for unabated power!

“Where is the child…for we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Mt 2:2)

The story, as told, is remarkable in many ways….

These magi, these “wise men,” have not only taken notice of some grand event in the heavens but they have traveled great distances to find this “child who has been born king of the Jews.”

They took notice of cosmic events and somehow understood the meaning enough to uproot themselves and undertake what must have been perilous travel.

In order for them to understand the significance of the event, they had apparently not only studied the stars but were also well aware of the cultures around them, knowing the history of the people of Israel and what was foretold of the coming of the Messiah.

These “wise men” were well in tune with their whole environment: their cosmos, their earthly cultural history and their interior yearnings.

So, when they saw the brilliance of the heavenly lights, they knew – or in the words of Paul “the eyes of [their] hearts [were] enlightened” – and they took off on a journey in search of the Christ-child.

When the wise men arrived at Herod’s court seeking direction to find the Christ-child, Herod was taken aback.

Star?
What star?

King?
KING?!

But, I am king.

Herod had to gather together all the chief priests and scribes who, after consultation, informed him that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. How had the chief priests and scribes had missed an event that was so obvious to these Persians?

The wise men went on their way, following the star until it stopped over the place where the child was.

And listen to this: “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”

When they entered the house and saw Jesus, they knelt down before him and honored him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh…gifts befitting a king, a priest and a prophet.

Now, as we all know, King Herod was frightened and thus thrown into a violent rage that not only foreigners, but foreigners from the Persian superpower, had shown up looking for a child born “king.”

Not on his turf was that going to happen.

So Herod gathered together his armies to search high and low for this child so that he could remove this threat to his power and control.

An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt until further word.

So, under cover of darkness the holy family escaped….and to Egypt no less.

The last time the Israelites were in Egypt, they were trying to escape…escape from bondage and slavery.

Now the escape is to Egypt….to freedom.

But, then again, the last Joseph sojourning in Egypt had also escaped there from famine.

An interesting paradox, isn’t it?

It makes me wonder:

Can places of wilderness — of trial and tribulation —
also be places of opportunity for freedom?

Can places of pain, anger and resentment also offer opportunities for release, forgiveness and redemption?

In the words of Herbert O’Driscoll:

“In the inner geography which we all inhabit, we encounter fortifications of our own construction. Walls and battlements of fear, anxiety, alienation, depression, stand to keep out what we see as enemy.

“Ironically our enemies can very often bring about our changing, our freedom, and our growth.

“As aging, internal tyrants they stand within us, determined to crush the child of possibility trying to come to birth in each of us.” (from “The Dark Fortress” in Portrait of a Woman: Meditations on the Mother of our Lord, The Anglican Book Centre, 1982, p. 48)

The magi, from far away Persia, through cosmic signs and internal yearnings recognized the in-breaking Power of new life in the world and used their resources to seek him out.

Herod, closed in on himself as he sought to extinguish any possible threat to his own power and control, missed an opportunity to free himself and find new and abundant life. Instead he only buried himself deeper into the mire of his own misery.

This is the season of Christmas…
the season of God-incarnate,
God-enfleshed in many places and faces in our world
if only we will allow God to enlighten the eyes of our hearts,
so that we may grow in wisdom and revelation,
knowing the hope to which God has called us
even in the midst of our Egypt wilderness.

O’Driscoll says:

“Where is the child who is born to be king of the Jews?

“This question, asked long ago in a particular situation, is of course universal and timeless.

“The travelling philospher who asked it inhabits each of us, whether or not we are aware of him behind our external busyness.

“The question we ask concerns the whereabouts of the child who is somewhere in the tangles and troubled terrain of our own souls and personalities.

“The child we seek is, in history and in time, the Christ; but in our personal experience he is the light of God, always struggling for birth within us.

“ ‘Where is the child?’ we ask the kings and tyrants of self-centredness, cynicism, and weariness that rule our inmost hearts. And we ask for this child because we are instinctively aware that if only we can find him we will discover a king who will draw us and lead us to new life.” (Ibid, p. 49)