Matthew 2. 13-23
Herod the Great is in his chamber alone. Word comes to him – it’s done.
Herod isn’t really interested in the numbers, he doesn’t care whose blood was spilled, his eye roams for where the next plot will come and he suspects everyone.
No one was surprised at the lengths he would go to.
Who can say what turned his heart to stone, what made him incapable of trusting anyone.
the heart has its reasons…
It was after an uprising had broken out in Israel killing his father and brother, that the Roman Senate declared Herod king: Anthony and Octavian, two rivals for the laurels of Caesar both saw something impressive in him.
It took Herod 2 years to reclaim the land and though there were battles to be fought he was neither a cruel or enthusiastic killer. Herod never forgot the day he cornered some rebels into a Galilean cave and from the ravine below asked them to surrender,guaranteeing the lives of their families.
But an old man brought his family out from the cave and in front of Herod took the life of his own wife. Herod begged the old man to spare the children but there in front of him the old man killed them, one by one, then mocked Herod for his lack of guts before took his own life.
Who can say what turned Herod’s heart to stone, incapable of trusting anyone.
Worse was to come. He listened to rumors spread by his sister Salome and his first wife Doris that his wife Mariamme and their 2 sons, educated in Rome, are plotting against him. And even though the emperor Augustus finds them innocent, a worm of suspicion eats away at Herod, and he orders their deaths.
He discovers – too late – that each of them was innocent. A worm of grief and remorse eats away at Herod.
Who can say what turned his heart to Stone, made him incapable of trusting anyone.
Herod’s court corrodes into a place of scheming and terror. By the time the magi arrive they find a cancerous old man eaten away by the fear that one of his surviving sons would try to poison him.
Where is the child born to be king?
Is not a safe question to ask a man who for over 30 years has gripped his crown with a bloody hand. But the wise men are no threat to him – Zoroastrians who don’t have a dog in the fight. So, Herod decides to use them as spies.
They don’t need to consult the stars to work out there’s more going on than Herod is saying: So, they return home by another road.
Furious, Herod doesn’t blink at what he does next and the man who once pleaded for the lives of his enemies’ children now massacres all the infant boys in a village.
A few days before he dies Herod will murder another son and have the hippodrome he built in Jericho filled with hundreds of upright citizens. He gave orders that at the moment of his death they were all to be killed so that the sound of weeping would be heard throughout the land -because no one would weep for him.
Who can say what makes a heart so hard, unable to trust.
But Herod wasn’t born evil. He wasn’t a cartoon villain. The man who once begged for the lives of his enemies’ children Became the man who massacred the children of Bethlehem.
Our hearts aren’t fixed. What we live, what happens to us on the way, chasing what we most want all shapes who we become. Herod “the great” got what he wanted – to be king – but at what cost?
The child he once tried to kill survived to say: “What does it profit someone to gain the whole world and to lose their soul…What can we give in exchange for our soul?“
What can we give in exchange for what makes us truly human? And what’s at the heart of our humanity anyway?
At the heart of our humanity is trust: Love, hope, a meaningful life open to good can’t survive without trust. Herod trusted no one. To trust in no one doesn’t keep us safe. It turns our heart into a haunted house.
The vulnerability of a needy child in the arms of parents running into the night, looking for refuge somewhere they didn’t belong. If the journey to Bethlehem felt a long way, how about the walk to Egypt as refugees?
What did it take for Mary and Joseph to make that journey? A willingness to trust.
To trust in God. And to trust in one another.
To agree to bring a child into the world, to go on a journey together to Bethlehem, they trusted God and trusted one another. To leave in the middle of the night and go into a future that was uncertain, to somewhere you never intended to live, to a life you never chose beforehand, needed a deep trust in God and a trust in one another.
In the new testament the word for faith is Πίστις (Pistis): it means trust.
To have faith is to trust. Mary and Joseph trusted God, trusted one another enough to let their lives go in directions they hadn’t expected or planned. Trust makes a way for hope, runs on the energy of love.
To believe in God isn’t a very deep question. But to trust God? With who we are; what we’ve lived; all we’ve failed at and are helpless before; to trust God with what we are going through. Trusting God softens our heart to live, hurt, hope, sorrow, rejoice live and die in a way brings us deeper into the love of who God is.
But have you ever thought that trust goes both ways.
Mary and Joseph were given a needy, vulnerable, fragile child to raise as their own. God trusted them to care for his son.
I wonder who are we called to care for with kindness, tenderness, understanding, even forgiveness? God trusts us. Trusts us to care.
And he will guide us on routes we hadn’t planned before, on journeys we never imagined would be ours. It’s here we learn to trust in the God who comes to our world: a world of bush-fires and floods and deniers of climate change; a world of gung-ho presidents and assassinated murderous generals; a world of food banks and refugees.
And trusts us to care.
To care like Mary’s son, a peasant child and refugee, a carpenter, who healed the sick and welcomed the outcast, who loved even from the height of cross and left death redundant; in whom the whole of who God is was with us.
If I have one resolution this year I think it’s this: to be more worthy of the trust God has in me.