Reflection for Sunday – January 8, 2023
Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Ephesians 3: 2-3a,5-6; Matthew 2: 1-12
Preacher: Marlene Bessette
As I reflected on today’s Gospel, I kept returning to the verse that recounts the reaction when the magi’s quest to find the newborn king of the Jews led them to Jerusalem. “When King Herod heard about this, he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him.” What struck me was that along with King Herod, all of Jerusalem was greatly troubled by this news. The reaction went beyond Herod to his entire kingdom. Why?
It was probably because the people of Jerusalem were in a relatively comfortable place. Herod, who was a practicing Jew of Arab origin, had the support of the Roman empire, and had been the appointed king of Judaea for almost 40 years. During his reign, the region had generally been peaceful, and Judaea prospered as he increased trade, built fortresses, aqueducts, theatres and renovated and expanded the Temple in Jerusalem. But people did fear him as he became increasingly mentally unstable, killing his wife, her sons and other relatives in fear of anyone who could unseat him from power.
Now came the magi who were telling Herod and all of Jerusalem that they were facing the fulfillment of a prophecy—that the child of the House of David, destined to be “King of the Jews,” had been born. No one in Jerusalem knew exactly what that meant, but we can imagine that they suspected their comfortable world was going to change as power shifted. And changes of power were usually turbulent with unpredictable outcomes and violent transitions. Who wouldn’t be troubled?
This made me wonder if Christmas, a time to celebrate the birth of our savior, would also leave me a little troubled if I reflected on how the coming of Christ could and should change my life?
Yes, the incarnation is the mark of our salvation, but Jesus didn’t come to keep everything status quo. Jesus came to disrupt the kingdom of humans on earth by calling us to be part of the kingdom of God on earth. A kingdom that comes, not by changing political or societal structure, but by changing our hearts.
We all have our own little human kingdoms—kingdoms that are all about us. They’re the things we’ve become comfortable with and attached to. It could be our jobs, our money, our possessions, or our status in the community. Kingdoms that Jesus might be calling us to disrupt in order to follow him. Doesn’t that make you at least a little bit uncomfortable?
Because if we’re honest we’d probably admit we like our kingdoms. They’re comfortable. So, we protect and defend them. Not as violently and ruthlessly as Herod did, but we rationalize and maintain them. And sometimes our kingdoms divert us from the needs of others or make us deaf to what God may be calling us to.
Whether we’re not listening for our calling or overtly ignoring it because our personal agenda conflicts with the kingdom, Jesus wants us to co-create. Are we essentially killing what Jesus calls us to? Don’t we all have a little Herod in us when we ignore or challenge Jesus’s call?
So, let’s stop for a minute to think about what that baby Jesus may eventually ask of us. Or what Jesus may be asking of us right now. How might He change our world? How might He be asking us to change the world in which we live?
Jesus may ask us to tear down our Kingdoms, which are often built on order, efficiency and control so we can build up His Kingdom, which is built on Faith, Hope and Love.
The message is not that our jobs, our money, or the things that we own are bad. The message is that when those things selfishly become our focus and get prioritized over everything else, that’s when we lose sight of them as blessings from God. And they instead become our idols, our kingdoms.
So, it’s actually a good thing to realize that we all have a little bit of Herod in us. That knowledge reminds us that we need to be on guard and aware that we might be building our own little kingdoms, instead of building up the Kingdom of God. It allows us to surrender ourselves to God, so that through His love we can learn to listen for and trust the changes that Jesus may ask of us. It gives us the courage to not be afraid of those changes, to not be troubled.