Monday, December 27, 2010

Innocents and Powers

In notation form, Sunday's message:

Psalm 148 (call to worship)
Hebrews 2:10-18 (children)
Matthew 2:13-23 (message)

Why is the baby Jesus such a threat? Isn’t the kingdom of God a spiritual thing? Perhaps Herod recognizes something about Jesus that we miss.
For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, found online at

Why did the innocent have to die?

A power-hungry king, yes.  But that answer is unsatisfactory, especially when combined with prophecy: So, if God could rescue Jesus, then why not everyone? And, I don’t really care how impractical the suggestion is, I still want everyone to be saved.

The final piece of prophecy is interesting, and cryptic. “He shall be called a Nazorean”? The entire Old Testament says nothing of the kind, unless you bring in word-play on the Hebrew term “n─ôzer”, for “branch”:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots (Isaiah 11.1).
The text from Isaiah itself is not focused on the town of Nazareth, but on Israel’s experience of suffering followed by deliverance, judgment followed by promise. Jesus is revealed in Matthew as not just the man from Nazareth but the one who suffers to redeem.

Old “Hercules” episode (from tv serial, season 3, episode 9, “A Star to Guide Them”):

tyrant, heard an oracle re divine/royal child to be born among his people. Feared the child, determined to kill him, if necessary to kill all the children of the kingdom just to be certain of getting the one

Hercules' best friend and 2 other men (for a total of the traditional 3) see a vision that leads them northward into the tyrant's kingdom, where they work to save children in each of the small towns, eventually killing the tyrant himself.

At the end, they are led by a star to a small peasant hovel, where the child is assumed to be inside (though the camera does not go inside).

What kind of Savior do we want?

A super-hero? Or a savior who emerges through and is revealed in suffering? Hercules can destroy a tyrant. But only the Suffering Jesus can be the Prince of Peace. Only the Suffering Jesus can both satisfy the demands of justice for the oppressed and offer forgiveness to perpetrators. Since most of us have fallen, at different times, in either camp, it is good news to know that Jesus comes to save the entire human race.

If we’re in a position of power, like Herod, we’ll quake in our boots at his coming, react defensively and aggressively. If we’re oppressed, we’ll rejoice . . . until we see Jesus hand out pardons. Then, we’ll be tempted to take up a vendetta, a holy war.

We need a Savior who knows the violence that threatens us, and the violence growing in our souls. And we have this Savior in Jesus Christ. We need a Savior who understands that salvation is worked out not by destroying us and our violence but by redeeming us and making us whole again. We need a Savior who can take our brokenness and make something whole. Not even Hercules can do that. We have this Savior in Jesus Christ and Christ alone.

What kind of Savior do we need? We need a Savior for the victims, a God whose understands human suffering by experience and who has worked salvation from it.
A Savior for the lonely
A Savior for the grieving
for the addicted
for the hopeless
for the fearful
for sinners

Recap ...
Jesus coming as
Refugee, seeking political asylum

A carol: “The Tyrant Issues His Decree”
by Iain D. Cunningham

The tyrant issues his decree,
and only those forewarned can flee;
while children, true to prophecy,
are culled because of jealousy.

Bewildered parents claw the air
with shrieks of horror and despair,
and all of Bethlehem laments
the slaughter of the innocents.

Only a tyrant could impose
this murder of imagined foes:
yet still the power of love defies
the love of power and all its lies.

A Saviour, saved by sacrifice
of those who died there in his place,
shall live to die another day,
and, dying, show another way.
Long Meter (88.88), as “Jesus Shall Reign”

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