Welcome to the second of the Ness Group Advent Reflections
The reaction of King Herod to the Holy Family
Matthew chapter 2, verses 1 – 8, 12, 16 – 18
‘In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come t pay him homage.”
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, [the wise men] left for their own country by another road.
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘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.’
Another reflection for the second week ofAdvent, focussing on the idea of persecution.
Even if we knew nothing about this King Herod, we can get an idea of his character through the duplicity, scheming and violence in this passage. It all happened in a period of history which is perhaps alien to us. The use of astrologers (people seeing significant meaning in the movement of the stars) and dreams comes across as very important throughout the Old Testament as well as here. And people knew (or thought they knew) their scripture so much better than we do. It was second nature for events to be linked to predictions and prophecies. None the less, this persecution of an innocent family seems extreme and evil.
Herod the Great was not born a Jew. He was an experienced general in the Roman army, and was chosen to be ‘king of the Jews’ by Rome in 37BC, but still subject to the Emperor. He was never popular with his Jewish subjects, though he carried out a magnificent renovation and rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was also a jealous man and suspicious of every rival – a sign of paranoia. His ruthlessness in eliminating rivals was seen in the slaughter of the Bethlehem children because of the information from the wise men (maybe they were not so wise!).
Herod died in 4BC so the birth of Jesus must have occurred shortly before that, up to 6 years earlier than allowed by our dating system of BC/AD (now CE).
So, we have a motivation for Herod’s persecution, yet the idea that a babe could threaten his position seems very tenuous today. After all, given the level of infant mortality, there would have been no guarantee of its survival. And why should he believe the wise men? Note that his advisors justified the event only after he had had the foreigners’ information.
Sadly that is the way of persecutors. Their anger and single-mindedness, their mental instability, leads them to ignore all other moderating influences. And the more powerful they are, the more likely it is that they will carry others with them. It was certainly true of Hitler. His officers jostled to get Hitler’s approval for a yet more deadly scheme of persecution, whether of Jews or gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities or those perceived to be different. Many were destroyed in the struggle.
But we are not like that, are we? Persecution comes in many forms and it doesn’t present itself only as physical violence. Threats, force, mental coercion, control and the denial of freedom are all part of the package that is persecution. It can also include stalking, or demeaning individuals such that they lose their self-esteem. But at a lower level does persecution also involve the cherishing of disputes with neighbours, or long-standing family disagreements. What do you think?
How do we stop persecution? A small group of German Christians thought they could by planning to kill Hitler; they paid for the attempt with their lives. Only significant force by the Allies could change his course of action. But what if it is someone we know? There is professional help available, including from the police.
Advent is a time for self-examination and resolution. Has our behaviour towards others ever failed to reflect the God’s love and if so, what are we going to do about it? Now may not be the time for big gestures, but a seasonal card might help.
Joseph, already processing what this baby’s arrival might mean for him, must have felt the responsibility greatly. Only the intervention of the Holy Spirit saved the situation. Are we brave enough to call on the Holy Spirit in our prayers, to bring about change? The Holy Spirit of God may ask us what we intend to do? And are we able to pray for the perpetrators, the users and abusers of power, as well as victims/survivors?
If you have personal concerns about the issues highlighted in this reflection please, seek urgent advice; talk to someone, you can always talk to anyone on our ministry team, or call the Samaritans free on 116 123
God of grace, renewal and rebirth,
be with us as we look at ourselves and how we use your power for good or ill.
May we see in your loving dealings with the poor and marginalised
what good relationships can and should be.
Help us to seek advice if we have been or are victims of persecution;
to recognise that it is not our fault.
And be with the perpetrators, giving them the strength
to turn away from the misuse of power in all human interactions.