Sunday, 11 January 2015

A disastrous visit


A few days ago was the twelfth day of Christmas (Toby was keeping careful count), otherwise known as the Feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the visit of the wise men to Jesus.

Re-reading the story, I was struck by how disastrous their visit was.

You remember, of course, the nice part.  The three (or however many) wise men, following a beautiful big shining star, are getting close to their goal and stop at Herod's palace to ask for directions.  "Bethlehem!" say the clever advisors there, so off go the wise men, only to find the star helpfully illuminating the very house they require.  Full of joy, they see Jesus and present their priceless gifts.

Pause to appreciate the tableau: these rich and intelligent men bowing in worship to a tiny baby.


Brimming with good feelings, the wise men return home.  They have found the special One they sought; done homage; honoured him with meaningful and costly presents; achieved their quest.

But here the story turns darker.  As a result of that unscheduled visit to Herod, the very baby they sought to honour is soon fleeing as a refugee to Egypt, while the streets of Bethlehem are filled with the wailing of mothers who have had their sons snatched and killed by Herod's soldiers.  Such death and destruction resulting from such good intentions.

The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents - Gustave Dore
Gustave Dore: The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents
The wise men did the right thing.  They followed the star, the leading of God, the desires of their hearts.  Yet still, through their actions, the fear and anger of Herod was enabled to act.  And evil followed.

The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were also following their star.  Perhaps not to the Christ child, but at least in pursuit of freedom of speech, upholding the belief that we see more clearly when we laugh at ourselves.  But through their actions, evil found an outlet, and the fear and anger of men brought death.  The staff of Charlie Hebdo were no more responsible for the shooters' actions than the wise men were responsible for Herod's; but they were all part of the story.

What lesson we can draw from this, I do not know.  For good or for evil, we are all part of the story too.  It can be tempting to think that if we just do the right thing, everything will be fine; but unfortunately reality conspires against our pleasant dreams.  All we can do is fight against that fear and anger, both within us and without, with the love and trust of Jesus.

And keep following the star.

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