2 January 2011

Matthew 2:1-12

"When King Herod heard this, he was frightened..." (v. 3)


This Sunday's reading from Matthew's Gospel is the story of the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem. Nativity play costumes, carols about "three kings of orient", and extravagant presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh tend to clothe this story with an exotic, fairy-tale air. But it is actually a pretty tough story. When the wise men set off home, Jesus' family, like many in the world today, became refugees and had to go into exile (verses 13-15). And all the children in and around Bethlehem who are under two years of age were slaughtered (verse 16). (But most people don't get this far in the story.) 

Herod found the news of this child's birth a threat and was "frightened". Perhaps not surprisingly. In the comedy play, Jesus my boy, Tom Conti played the part of Joseph. In one scene, in conversation with the wise men, he says, "So you told the old King of the Jews that there's a new King of the Jews. And you call yourselves wise men?" 

For Christians, the coming of Jesus is clearly not frightening. It is a good news story of the one who comes as light into the world's darkest places. And one of the things the visit of the wise men indicates is that Jesus' coming is for everyone (hence this week's theme of 'light for all'), not just for the people of Israel, but for all people. It is good news for all the world. 

But, even though it is good news for all the world, there have been and still are those who are threatened by this story - situations where the Church is not seen as a benevolent, supportive presence but as a major threat to powerful interests or the status quo; places where darkness is preferred because the light shows up people's behaviour for what it really is. 

To Ponder

What situations do you know about where Christians are persecuted and the Church is seen as a threat? Why?

Are we too used to Christianity being comfortable and safe? What might you do to change this?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Gamble

David Gamble is a Methodist minister currently serving as conference officer for Legal and Constitutional Practice and was president of the Methodist Conference 2009/2010. He is married to Liz and they have three adult children.