When I was growing up, I loved the show “Dragnet.” Who wouldn’t love “Joe Friday, a big gruff guy with purpose?” He never wavered from his intent to find his “man” – or – woman. It didn’t make any difference to Joe. If you did the crime, you did the time.
There was one line in nearly all the episodes that would get me every time. I waited for it, knew it was coming, and said it before ole’ Joe could get it out of his mouth. “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Well, as I was preparing for this morning’s particular meditation I was caught by the facts in this rather interesting tale of three wise men seeking the Christ child. This is the kind of story that is so rich in detail that our imaginations are fired up when we hear or read it.
First, there is King Herod – not a nice guy in anyone’s view. He’d already set a precedent for killing those closest to him and a few not so close. And true to his nature, King Herod didn’t improve his reputation in this tale. Herod, a Jew, was a pawn of the Roman Government, a “puppet” king. He held only the amount of power the Romans gave him. It was, however, pretty significant that the Jews had a king at all. The Jews had somehow managed to exert enough pressure on the government to encourage the Romans to put in place one of their own to oversee the region. Maybe it was just easier on the Romans to deal with the problem of the Jewish population by putting a Jew in charge.
The problem was that Herod was more Roman than Jewish. He probably spoke Greek, might have been educated in Greek schools and frankly enjoyed the company and culture of Roman life more than the life and culture of his country men and women. To stay in power, Herod had to be the least Jewish he could be and he had gotten pretty good at doing just that. Few among the Jews saw Herod as anything but a traitor to his people, his heritage, and his God. Even those who were riding his coat tails didn’t put much faith or trust in him. He just wasn’t a nice guy at all.
Now – a king is reported to have been born in Bethlehem. Apparently, nobody in Herod’s palace had heard about this upcoming event so it went largely unnoticed. Unnoticed, that is, until three wise men from the “east” came to Jerusalem seeking information about the birth. Then things started heating up. Herod first called on his chief priests and scribes to find out what the wise men were talking about. He had a vague memory from his Jewish schooling that some prophets had foreseen a birth of this type and that it was supposed to happen in Bethlehem. Well, not on Herod’s watch. What is funny about this part of the story is that Herod, the not very religious king, would turn to his religious roots as soon as he felt threatened.
And he did feel threatened. If a king had been born in Bethlehem, that would definitely be a threat to Herod’s claim to the throne. And if the Romans heard about it, well they too might feel threatened. Threatened enough perhaps to put an end to Herod’s reign and sit one of their own on the throne to keep things in order in Jerusalem. No one could ever be sure what Rome would do to protect its power, least of all a man whose claim to that power was largely on loan, and slim at best.
Not totally satisfied by what he had heard from his own religious wise men, Herod secretly summons the three from the East. He wants their story. Scholars have determined that the so-called three kings were probably not kings at all. It is far more likely that they were astrologers or sorcerers from Persia, holy men. We know them as the Magi. They read the stars, which made them mysterious and mystical. Herod believed their story and sent them on their way. But before he did he asked to come back once they had found the child and report to him. Herod said he wanted to worship the Christ too. Not likely!
Well, we know that the Magi did find Jesus. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and in a dream they were warned not to return to Herod. Herod never did find the Christ child but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Further on in Matthew’s gospel, we hear the terrible lengths Herod would go to in order to find Jesus. He ordered the deaths of all babies under the age of 2 years old in the hopes that one might be the Christ, the one the prophets had proclaimed king.
I wonder what would have happened if Herod had gone looking for Christ for himself. He was right. Indeed, Christ was a threat to his reign. Christ is a threat to anyone who takes more power than is due him or her. Christ is a threat to those who steal from the poor to feed the rich. Christ is a threat to anyone who abuses what he or she have or misuses what’s been given to them.
Christ is a threat to those who fail to share the gifts they’ve received. Christ is a threat to any who ignore the pain of another. Christ is a threat to any who terrorize others or who promote war in the name of peace.
Herod was right! Christ is a threat to anyone that fails to understand why Christ came into the world in the first place. Not to sit on a throne! Not to rule a kingdom here on earth! Christ came into the world to redeem God’s creation – you, me and the Herods of this world. And there has never been a more dangerous, more radical, more threatening claim on our lives than this one…Christ is Lord and Savior! To find Christ in our lives, to see Christ in the faces of those we are called to serve…this is the way we follow the star. And like the wise men from the east, we are called to follow that star…called to follow the One who comes as light to our dark world. Christ is only a threat to those who can not or will not see the light…the beacon of truth, the Prince of Peace. Herod was right! Thanks be to God! Our God reigns! Amen.