PSALM 72:1-7, 10-14 & MATTHEW 2:1-12
Rev. Dr. Anta Farber-Robertson
Scripture: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Matthew 2:1-12
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14:
1 Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.
2 May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.
3 May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.
4 May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.
5 May he endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.
6 May he be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth.
7 In his days may the righteous flourish and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts.
11 May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him.
12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Psalmist warns us of the kind of king that is to come.
He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.
Oh yes, it also says that the kings will bow down and the nations will serve him, but that is not the really scary part. The really scary part is the promise of justice; it always has been.
The culture of two thousand years ago was not that different from the culture of today; the prosperity of the upper classes depended upon the existence of an underclass. To promise the coming of one who will level the playing field, help the weak, the needy and the afflicted and rescue them from oppression and violence, is to promise the end of life as we know it, for both the rich and the poor. In a world that is just everyone has the chance to succeed and everyone has the chance to fail. Scary stuff no matter which way you look at it, but especially so if you have always been on the winning side of the equation. As Americans we have been on the winning side of the global equation, even during these, are our hard times. We can have a little compassion for Herod.
Were we to see the star in the sky, the star that would guide us to one who would deliver the needy, the afflicted who have no one to help, one who would save the needy from death and rescue them from oppression and violence. Would we go? If the star indicated that the baby was being born in Mexico, the Sudan or in Afghanistan, would we fall down and worship the child; would we even be interested? Would we choose to visit the baby? Would we want to?
So while we cheer on the wise men from the safe distance of two thousand years, we could do well to recognize the Herod in our own lives. We may not be wanting to go out and slaughter the innocents, but neither are we always willing to relinquish our advantages so that the needy and afflicted no longer need to cry out.
Despite this, it is still true and compelling, this story of hope and promise. We yearn for peace and for a solid course on a true moral compass. We do want the child to be born and to thrive, to teach us the way and infuse us with courage. We do. And so we harbor the Prince of Peace and Herod both in our hearts.
Maybe that is not so bad, certainly understandable at this point in the liturgical year. We are at the feet of a baby; he has yet to teach us the things we need to learn. He can evoke the hopes and fears of all the years, and we can lay them at his feet, like the gifts of the Magi. We can become as little children, willing learners once again, open to love and a generous hope. We can reassure the Herod in our hearts that we can learn to thrive with a heart that is good in a world that is just. We can even teach him how to bend his knee and truly worship at the feet of the child.
In the Christmas song O Little Town of Bethlehem we are reminded that “when souls are truly humble, then the dear babe rests within.” It reminds us too that both our hopes and our fears are met in our encounter with the child.
As you bend your knee and bow your head, can you trust enough and rest enough to let yourself know and feel the hopes and fears you bring to the child?
What are they? Can you relinquish them, offering them as gifts to the child who will lead you?
Where is Herod in your heart? Onto what are you trying to hold, that truly does not belong to you? To protect what inside you, are you willing to hurt others? Can you wrap your loving heart around that frightened Herod and reassure him? Can you help him bend his knee and bow his head, recognizing that he too needs the love and the help the child brings.
Gracious loving God, who sent us a Comforter for when we are desolate, a Healer for when we are wounded, a Teacher for all we have to learn, a Lover for when we feel unloved, we offer you our hearts of thanks and praise.
Help us to receive him. Help us to find the humility that will open a space in which he can dwell. Infuse us with faith and with courage, that we might trust the way you would have us go, and begin the journey, step by step. Be patient with us for our hesitation. Remind us always that we can start again. Let us feel the love with which you have borne the world, and may we be its bearers day by day. Amen.