For 430 years Israel was captive in Egypt. It has now been 400 years again since the last minor prophet of Israel has walked the earth, the Spirit has been silent. But things are beginning to change, visions are being seen, angels are visiting men and magi from a far off land have left their home country to follow the signs that the Anointed, the King of the Jews is to be born. The clock is ticking down, in 30 years the time of serving in bondage to sin will be up and the new Exodus will begin.
A counterfeit King sits on the throne. Herod has secured his position through political wrangling, intimidation and murder including that of his sons and wife. He has ruled by fear, but in his old age he is finding the arrival of the magi disturbing. The tables have turned, he in fact is now ruled by fear.
He pretends to be a follower, just has he pretends to be the Jewish king, but his heart is filled with murderous plots, desperate to hold on to the power and position that he has given so much of himself to achieve. The faith of the magi is not something that he can possibly comprehend. The innocence and wonder of a people looking for a king, searching for a Messiah is foreign to one who has dedicated his life setting himself up as king. For the aging ruler, any challenge, even in the form of a baby, especially in the form of a baby is a threat that must be met with violence. Hate is the only emotion available where hope should dwell.
It is not only Herod who is disturbed at the news that the period of silence might be at an end, that the Living God may be moving among men once again, it is all of Jerusalem with him. This does not speak well of the Hellenized version of Judaism that had emerged in the culture, one driven by politics and power with just enough religiosity to appear righteous.
This is the prequel, the last chapter of Matthew before we skip to Jesus’ adult life. This is a world without God, one ruled by fear and steeped in corruption that the infant Jesus enters into. It is one where a few, a remnant are still faithful, where those still with wonder and innocence seek a better world. Where the plots of the politically powerful are defeated by the obedient faith of the righteous willing to listen to a God who speaks in dreams. Those with the least are the most able to follow, and those who have benefitted most from Grace have used their privilege to grab even more power hardening their hearts and blinding themselves to where they are unable to extend any grace to others.
Herod’s reign has been long and his reputation is well-known, which makes it all the more surprising that magi wise enough to pursue the Jewish messiah and observant enough to notice and follow his star, were naive enough to inquire at the castle from the sitting king of the Jews as to where the new King of the Jews would be born. But it is just these qualities that allow the magi to find the Christ child and also to escape Herod’s plans; their ability to seek and find God allows them to commune in a way that protects them on their return trip. Reliance on God is also what allows Joseph to ironically escape the slaying of the first-born of Galilee fleeing in the night back into the land of Egypt.
The stage is set, and the long silence is about to be ended as God calls his son out of Egypt. Man’s power and plans are on a head on collision course with God’s sovereignty. The King is returning. Those with hearts to ask, and seek and knock have now found him and their joy is complete. He has been anointed, he is the Anointed, Death is going to be swallowed up in Life as innocence and obedience of the spiritual meet the lies, greed and corruption of the carnal head-on.
So, how do we meet God when He comes knocking? Are we blinded by our own power and privilege? Do we obey and follow without question? Are we seekers, reliant on communion with God, simply looking to see His face here on Earth and present our gifts? I don’t know the answer and I believe this is as important a subject of prayer as any other, but I will say as a coach and athlete I subscribe to the theory that when it comes down to it in a game, we usually play the way we practice. I don’t think you get all the way to Jerusalem following a star by being a person who doesn’t listen to God when he speaks to you in dreams. And I fearfully say that if we are the types of people who are secure in our own power, safe and well fed, we need to prayerfully consider whether we would welcome the true King in our little kingdom if he returned. Would we be filled with hope or plot in hate? Would we be filled with fear or step out in Faith?
You see, it is an ugly truth that as much as we would like to identify totally with the obedience of Joseph and the faith of the magi, there is part of us that contains the cruelty and greed of Herod. We would set ourselves up as stewards of our own little Kingdoms. There is something nice and predictable about silence, maintaining the status quo and avoiding change. But without change there in fact can be no new birth. And in the end it is just that simple, we are only saved through change. It is new birth that most threatens the safety and security of our kingdoms and it is only new birth that can save us from ourselves. There is a message that has shattered the silence in Chapter 2 that had existed for 400 years and it shatters our silence as well. We are not alone. Emmanuel, God is with us.