Matthew chapter 2 includes, I think, some of the most disheartening verses in the Scriptures.
We don’t often think of the Magi visit to the baby Jesus as a sad event. The narrative gets wrapped up in our Christmas joy. It becomes surrounded in light and presence and hope.
Certainly, those things are true. The beginning of the Gospels includes God painting the heavens with a sign for those who would have the eyes to see. It is the story of a salvation that cannot be contained by one place or people group. Emmanuel, God with us, is reaching out to heal any who seek.
But therein lies the tragedy. Embedded in the passage about seeking is the story of those who know, but do not take the journey of discovery and transformation.
“When Herod the king had heard these things [the report of the Magi], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.” - Matthew 2:3-6
When the time came to present gifts to the Messiah, where were the rest of the people?
If the religious leaders could predict that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem, and there was a sign from the heavens and from outsiders that the time had come, why did they not take the journey to investigate?
If the Magi were willing to take the long journey from the east, why does it seem that none of those in Jerusalem who were “stirred up” at their report were willing to travel 6 miles south to Bethlehem?
Were they afraid of how Herod would respond if he heard about their journey and considered it a threat? Or, if they were close enough to the king to be called in to answer his questions, were they concerned about the power they might lose if the status quo were disrupted? Or had they lived in a broken system for so long that they had fallen asleep to the possibility of redemption?
The heartbreaking questions continue with verse 16,
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.”
When Herod grabs for power with violence, where was God?
If God was willing to place a guiding star in the sky, why did he not place a protective angel in between Herod and the people?
Matthew 2 is fraught with tension. Hope and despair. Presence and absence. Salvation and suffering. But doesn’t that mirror our own lives? Things are so rarely one or the other.
Perhaps it can help us wrestle through these tensions in our own lives when we look to the Bible with questions instead of answers. When we allow the narratives to be complex and non-binary. When we give voice to our frustrations. When we listen to one another’s life experiences. When we look for the story God has been telling through the whole of Scriptures. When we somehow, through all of that, find new ways to hold onto hope and faith.
That is what we hope to do in Scripture Circles- to give space for wrestling, rootedness, questions, community, and hope. Join us on January 28 for our gathering on the Magi and the Star.