Often in the story of Jesus we see conflict as in how King Herod responded to the news of Jesus’ birth (the slaughter of the innocents).
At the time of Jesus’ birth, wise men from the East visited King Herod (Matthew 2). They asked, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”
When Herod heard this, he was frightened. He summoned the religious leaders to ask where the “anointed one” was to be born. Herod knew he was not the divinely anointed king of the Jews, even though he publicly claimed that role.
Herod knew his status as ruler was tenuous. He gained and maintained his power through brute force and political manipulation. He had little support from the common people around Jerusalem. Discontent with his rule was so high that a small spark could create a firestorm of revolution. Herod lived in constant fear – no matter how many enemies he tortured and executed, he knew their number continued to grow.
Herod asked the wise men to stop on their way back and let him know where this special child was so he could “also go and pay him homage.” The wise men found Jesus and gave him gifts. Then they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Jesus’ father Joseph also was warned, so he took Jesus and Mary away. They fled to Egypt and stayed there several years, until Herod died.
When Herod realized the wise men had tricked him, he was furious. “He sent for and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16).
This was only the latest of his extraordinary acts of brutality. Earlier he had his two oldest sons murdered because he feared they were plotting against him.
This tragic story is an introduction to the entire story of Jesus.
Jesus exposed the violence of power politics. He exposed the violence that lies all too close to the hearts of all of us. He goes on to show us that God’s merciful Kingdom is available right now to break this spiral of violence.
The story of Jesus is about the presence of God’s healing mercy in human history. This mercy enters a world of conflict. It is because we have so much conflict that we so desperately need God’s mercy.
Jesus, even at his birth, exposes the violence of King Herod. Alongside Jesus’ birth story, the joyful song of God-with-us, comes another song, a terrible song: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18).
Such lamentations have too often been a part of human history before and since Jesus’ birth. His birth, though, signals a new hope that Herod’s violence may be overcome.
First published in The Mennonite (December 22, 1998)
In His Shadow,
~ Mary Lindow ©
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Mary Lindow has a passion for encouraging others – all generations, careers or vocations to live expressing excellence through personal integrity, healthy accountability, and wise management of talents and skills. She’s a sought after keynote, inspirational, humorous speaker and teacher across the USA and internationally in Ministers & Spiritual leaders Conferences, and training seminars for various organizations.