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When Power Conflicts with God’s Vision

The story of the three wise men and King Herod.

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I have never been able to convince my fellow Sunday school teachers that we should include the Massacre of the Innocents–as it’s often called–into the annual Christmas pageant. It all sounds so awful and bloody.

The wise men, as they followed the star, stopped in Jerusalem to find out just where this child, the new king, would be born. “Bethlehem,” said the experts. Bethlehem was where they’d go.

King Herod, as dark a villain as there ever was, met with the wise men and asked them to come back and report to him after they’d seen this special child.

The wise men found the baby and honored it with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Jerusalem and not to see Herod.

Realizing he’d been tricked, Herod went into a jealous rage. He sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the male children two years and younger. The incident came to be know as the Massacre of the Innocents.

Why is this violent, capricious incident included in the Christmas story? It hardly seems like it should go with the birth of the Prince of Peace.

But it is a reminder that followers of Jesus, then and now, have to be wary of temporal rulers. Their quests for power can come in conflict with God’s vision. What to do when faced with a Herod?

It’s interesting to note that neither the wise men nor Joseph and Mary take up a fight against him. Instead they listen and look for heavenly guidance.

Like the wise men, Joseph is warned in a dream of Herod’s anger and takes the baby and Mary to Egypt. The wise men simply return to the East, going a different way.

Both then and now, violent and capricious rulers will demand to have their way. The innocents are the ones who suffer. And they are the ones who deserve our help and our prayers.

I guess that’s why I’d like to see it in a Christmas pageant. A reminder that there is always more work to be done to welcome God’s Son.

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