In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Around Christmas I saw Star Wars twice. I liked it a lot better the second time, but both times my favorite line was the same. No spoilers, but it’s when a character named Rose Tico has made has made a dramatic and risky judgment call (that I know not everyone here agrees with) and she explains it by saying, “We're going to win not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!” It’s a quote that sums up a lot of the story arc in the movie, but it also tells us something as the audience: Rose has found something that she believes is worth saving, and in spite of the chaos around her she believes it’s time to stop and recognize that.
I confess that this year I felt more hope from Star Wars than from Christmas. Not because of the stories themselves, but because of how they were each presented. In Star Wars I could see the struggle, the courage and the joy of the world the characters live in, but around Christmas time it’s like we pretend that Jesus was born in a snow globe, all pretty and walled off from the rest of the world. And that’s a problem, because the world that you and I live in can at times feel closer to a nasty galactic battle than sparkly snow drifting onto a softly lit manger scene. The truth is that I’m tired. And that if Jesus showed up in some fairy tale then I don’t see what good that does you or me.
So in a weird way it’s helpful to read today, “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born.” King Herod was a nasty character, the sort of politician that will do anything to increase and hold onto his power no matter the cost to his people, or even those closest to him. He is among other things remembered for killing several immediate family members, including his second wife. In our own story, Herod is about to order the death of every baby boy in Bethlehem in the hopes that Jesus will be among them, and Jesus only survives by fleeing as a refugee to Egypt. If Jesus was born not in a snow globe, but in the time of King Herod then that is a world I can recognize. That is a world of struggle and courage. And yet today we hear not about fighting Herod, or even about saving anyone from him quite yet, but about searching, and bringing gifts, and joy.
When the three wise men, probably astrologer priests from Iran, get to Judea they very logically go to the palace. After all they are looking for a prince. But when they find Herod, not Jesus, they are wise enough to leave and keep following the star until it stops above an ordinary house with an ordinary looking woman and her toddler inside. The wise men are wise, not so much because of their astrology, but because they recognize what is good when they find it. They recognize that it is Jesus that they have come to pay homage to, not Herod, and in finding him they are overwhelmed with joy. In spite of the fact that Herod is still out there, in spite of this not being what they expected, they recognize that with the star God has led them to something truly and purely good. So they stop and they give proper honor to what they have found and they offer what they can. It’s only after recognizing and rejoicing in finding something precious, that they protect it by defying Herod’s orders and sneaking out of town without telling him where to find and kill Jesus.
Many of us have spent a lot of energy in the past year fighting what we hate and protecting what we love. And that is good! But I at least also need to remember the wisdom of the wise men, to focus when God is trying to lead me to what is good and when I find it, to stop and recognize that. To bring what I can offer and to enjoy it! When he had grown up, Jesus took the time before saving us to make his first miracle changing water into wine at a wedding: simply recognizing what was good in that moment, what he had to offer and pausing with the joy of the people he had ultimately come to save. When we take the time to follow where we are being called, we also find what is good and what we have to offer, and our own joy in pausing there, in spite of the Herods, and as reason for the difficult decisions of when to fight and what to save.
So as this year begins I encourage you: find the good. Let God lead you towards the things in your own life that are precious, meaningful and of God, even if they’re more like a fragile baby in an ordinary house than the power and prestige of a palace. What is truly good is worth spending the time to find and to stay with. There will be times to save what you love, and even times to fight what you hate, but first there is time simply to find joy in the good that God has called us into.