“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. – Matthew 2:16
Dear Flock of the Shepherd of the Valley,
Perhaps it’s because I’m the daughter of two pastors, but probably more likely because I can just be a stickler for certain details that I decide are important, it drives me nuts when our society ends Christmas on December 26. I’m not shy about reminding (or teaching) people that December 25 is the FIRST of the twelve day of Christmas. The season of Christmas leads us to the feast of the Epiphany, when we celebrate the three wise men arriving to pay Jesus homage. And, if you even dare try to put the wise men at the manger a day before January 6, you will see me up and move them across the room so they have someplace to travel.
The way the selection of texts for worship (called the lectionary) works, we don’t often get to hear the story of the wise men in worship. Rarely is Epiphany on a Sunday. Often the first Sunday after Christmas is a chance get the most out of the abundance of Christmas carols we have for the shortest season of the church year. The story of the wise men tends to get lumped in with the rest of the characters showing up to see Jesus. One major exception I’m aware of though is in many Spanish-speaking cultures. Tres Reyes (three kings) is a huge celebration! That is when the gift giving happens. That is when the big parties happen.
In Matthew though the story that follows the arrival of the wise men is one we almost never hear in worship. We learn that Jesus’ family must flee to Egypt while he is just a baby for fear of King Herod. For some unknown length of time, Jesus’ family had to take refuge in a foreign land because of the actions of an oppressive ruler. Herod was so threatened by the thought of someone more powerful than he that he commanded all children in and around Bethlehem under the age of two to be murdered. This story is the gospel reading for the first Sunday after Christmas, but in many churches, it gets replaced by either Epiphany or the Baptism of Jesus, depending on how our church and secular calendar lines up. Whether or not it is intentional, one of the more violent stories in the gospels is avoided.
What might this say to us as we celebrate the birth of Christ in our midst? What real danger might people be in because of those in power feeling threatened by God’s reign? What stories of our faith would we rather just avoid?
For these twelve days of Christmas and during the season following Epiphany, until Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, I will be pondering the impact that God-with-us has for more than just us. After all the presents are opened and the tree is taken down (after January 6 of course) what remains? Where can we become more aware of people who suffer from the actions of those in power who feel threatened by God’s mercy and grace? These are details about which, I pray, we as God’s people ought to be sticklers.