by Alyssa Robinson
Jesus’s birth changed everything, but are we ready for that change? We’ve just spent an entire month anticipating the birth of Jesus, and Jesus is here! But we know his birth isn’t the end of his story; it’s not even the end of Jesus’s birth narrative.
Check out this week's episode Life + God Podcast to hear Alyssa Robinson and Denise Robinson talk about the days following Jesus's birth.
Matthew and Luke are the only two Gospels that mention the nativity story, and they have very different accounts of what happened in the days and years following Jesus's birth. The book of Luke gives us an understanding of how devoutly Mary and Joseph adhered to their Jewish faith. It tells us that Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised on the eighth day and then went to Jerusalem for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses. Mary and Joseph have beautiful encounters with a righteous man named Simeon and a prophet named Anna. I recommend you read Luke 2:25-40 to see for yourself.
Where I really want to focus is on the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:1-20). Like I said, it is a massively different detailing of events than the Gospel of Luke. This is the version of the story in which we are introduced to the Magi (or wisemen) and King Herod.
The fact that Jesus brought hope for God’s promises to be fulfilled was not a change that King Herod supported. I imagine that a powerful ruler doesn’t like hearing rumors about a child who will someday reign over all people. The Magi were astronomers and followed a star that led them to King Herod. They made the mistake of asking King Herod if he knew where the child born king of the Jews was located. We don't really know how the Magi came across this information or how they knew the star would lead them to Jesus, but many guess that they were familiar with the prophecies of the Jewish tradition.
King Herod was disturbed by their message and tried to manipulate them into disclosing the location of Jesus. He acted like he wanted to find the baby and worship him as well, so he asked the Magi to report the location to him when they’ve found the child.
The Magi found Jesus, worshipped him with gifts, and are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod. They changed their path to return home a different way.
Then an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph telling him that they weren’t safe in Bethlehem and needed to escape to Egypt, making them refugees. Mary and Joseph had to change their plans, which I’m guessing centered around resting and reclaiming some normalcy in their lives, to seek asylum in a foreign land from a powerful king trying to kill their baby.
Mary and Joseph heeded the angel’s warning and escaped to Egypt. King Herod was angry after being outwitted by the Magi and sent soldiers to kill every boy under the age of two in Bethlehem, hoping Jesus would be among them.
The story is quite horrific, violent, and unexpected. This is not the beautiful, serene beginning to Jesus’s life that any of us hoped.
Reading this story reminds me that Jesus’s birth and presence has the possibility to bring hope, love, peace, and deep joy to the entire world, but sometimes we stand in the way because we are resistant to change.
I'll admit, comparing myself to King Herod is extreme. After all, I haven’t had the thought to murder children, let alone act on it. But if I remove the heinous crime of infanticide and just focus on his reaction to change, there are times I’ve been a reflection of King Herod.
First, he was in denial and called together the experts to quote the prophets to him. He might have been thinking, “Surely, this isn’t what's actually happening.” I've caught myself thinking this before when I've been slapped in the face with unexpected change. When he finally moves past denial, he tries to take control of the situation through manipulation. He pretends to have righteous intentions, when he’s really acting out of selfishness. Have you ever found yourself trying to rationalize a selfish choice? I know I have.
When people don’t behave the way he wants them to, he lashes out in violent ways. I’ve definitely been known to throw a grown woman temper tantrum when things aren’t going my way.
King Herod is resistant to change because he is afraid of losing power, prestige, control, comfort, and the privileges to which he’s grown accustomed. Yikes, I've experienced some of those fears.
I believe that people can change their minds and their attitudes, but it doesn’t seem like Herod ever changed. Scripture doesn’t tell us how Herod died, but it does tell us that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream saying that it was safe to travel to Israel because Herod was dead.
I imagine that King Herod did not live a fulfilling, joyful life. Considering it was only safe to leave Egypt when he was dead, it sounds like he spent the rest of his days hunting a child out of fear.
I don’t want to be like King Herod. I don’t want fear to paralyze me from accepting and embracing the change happening around me. I don’t want to become a bitter person who is always on the defensive because things aren’t going my way. And I definitely don’t want to become fixated on the things I can’t change.
I want to be more like the Magi, or Mary and Joseph. I want to step into the New Year as a confident daughter of God who faces change with courage, love, and compassion for others. I want to be willing to change course if needed and hear what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me. I don’t know if I’m ready for change because I have no idea what’s coming in 2023, but I do know that God is with me. I know, because I have historical evidence, that God can make beautiful things out of my moments of brokenness if I’m open to it.
I hope you will step bravely into the New Year with me and leave your King Herod tendencies behind. Ready or not, the New Year is upon us. Ready or not, God is with us.