You probably don’t think of Christmas as a revolutionary holiday. Twinkling lights on trees, Starbucks gift cards, and sweet carols are not exactly the stuff of subversion. A domesticated Christmas is comforting, but considering our fraught political landscape today, we might find better lessons by reflecting on the disruption caused by Jesus’ birth, and the radical implications of his life.
This is not the talk of charity and giving Christmas toys and turkeys to the less fortunate. The language of Mary is the narrative of revolution and redistribution, two words that the powers that be just hate. And while the revolution that Christ brings is not violent, it is nonetheless completely transformational. Mary got it.
Herod did too. The nearest political ruler to the birth of Christ immediately saw the possible implications for him.
This summer, many Americans are watching in helpless horror as more than 52,000 children fleeing violence stream over our southern border. Many of them are making a dangerous journey by themselves to escape murder rates and gang violence in Central America, particularly El Salvador and Honduras, that are unparalleled except in countries at war.
People of goodwill at the border have offered food, water, shelter, and compassionate care to these refugee children. But protesters have screamed epithets at them and blocked buses carrying them to processing centers, despite the fact that it is not illegal for people to cross the U.S. border and ask for protection under U.S. law.
As politicians focus on midterm elections rather than on children in crisis, it’s worth remembering: Christians worship a child who fled from violence in his home country.
The Gospel of Matthew recounts the story of King Herod of Judea, who slaughtered all the babies and toddlers around Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to prevent the reign of Jesus — the child he had been told would become a king.
In the church where I grew up, the first Sunday in Advent was dubbed the “hanging of the greens.” On that special Sunday, we sang carols in the decorated sanctuary, all culminating in the children’s live nativity scene. The service never changed from year to year. The only variables were how many kids needed roles and which young child would get stage fright, thus leaving part of the the story without visual representation.
It always seemed like the doves were cursed. The doves rarely remained on stage for the entire performance. Over the years, I was a variety of animals — a wise man, a shepherd, and finally Joseph. I never got stage fright. I was never a dove. I can only imagine what my mother would’ve done if I had been that kid.
It took me years to realize that there was a character missing from my congregation’s telling of the story. We always left out King Herod.
This was a huge oversight, because Herod plays a major role in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth.