The Problem Baby
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12/29/2013
Based on Matthew 2: 13-23
This past Friday, I was able to hang-out with my eldest daughter and her family. She has six children ranging from 15 ½ down to 8 months old, five of them boys and one daughter. In one of our discussions my daughter told me among the many things that she is trying to expose my grandchildren to, is an appreciation for music of the 1980’s, my daughters era of course. I was reminded of conversations I had with my kids as to why can’t they listen to Disco, and of my mother’s conversation with me about how the Beatles were not writing music.
This tension between parent and child, was humorously dealt with in a song from Bye, Bye, Birdie titled, “Kids.”
Kids! I don't know what's wrong with these kids today! Kids! Who can understand anything they say? Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs! Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers! While we're on the subject: Kids! You can talk and talk till your face is blue! Kids! But they still just do what they want to do! Why can't they be like we were, Perfect in every way? What's the matter with kids today? Kids! I've tried to raise him the best I could. Kids! And while we're on the subject! Kids! They are just impossible to control! Kids! With their awful clothes and their rock an' roll! Why can't they dance like we did? What's wrong with Sammy Caine?
What's the matter with kids today!
What's the matter with kids today!
Now can’t you just see King Herod singing this song to his religious advisers as he learns from the three wise men who study the stars and have learned that there is a new King of the Jews? No, I don’t think Herod was worried about a generation gap. Herod is worried about his throne. Herod hears this news with such fear that it disturbs the whole palace.
When you stop to think about it, the whole story about Jesus’ birth seems to be pretty disturbing, to just about everybody involved. Staying solely with Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, the first two people that we learn about is Joseph and Mary, who are engaged to be married. The first problem arises with the news that Mary is with child and Joseph is pretty sure he isn’t the father. Joseph loves Mary and doesn’t want her to be publicly ridiculed so he was going to call off the engagement quietly. Then he has a dream telling him not to be afraid of taking Mary as his wife, for she is going to have a son who will be called Emanuel, “God with us.” So they get married and she delivered a baby boy by the end of first chapter.
At the very beginning of the second chapter, we are introduced to two more sets of people, the wise men of the East who have come looking for the new born Jesus and King Herod, who lives in Jerusalem just a couple of miles from Bethlehem where Jesus was born. The wise men were looking for the New King of the Jews, for they had seen his star in the East and had come to worship him. This was a huge surprise to Herod. After confirming this prophesy with his own religious leaders, Herod calls in the wise men and asks one little favor of them, that they after finding the child come back and share the news with him, so he too might go and pay homage to this new king of the Jews. Again another dream, this time to the wise men telling them to go home a differing route and avoid Herod at all costs.
I’m not sure how many of you with children have ever thought about your newborn child as “being a problem”. Oh sure, there are going to be those broken windows resulting from a stray pitch, or those fights with the neighborhood bully, and even those broken bones from falling out of the tree, but to be considered a problem to the point that the city sheriff, or the mayor wants to have your child killed? What was it about this child that would attract attention of three learned men in a far off country and compel them to make the long journey to pay homage? What is it about this child that at his birth caused the most powerful man in Israel to fear him?
The problem with this child is that he is a threat! If Jesus was truly the new King of the Jews as the wise men describe him to be to Herod, then this means that Herod was no longer an unchallenged ruler. The problem of this child is that once he is a grown man, he would become a threat to the Emperor of Rome. This baby was perceived as a threat, so much so, that Matthew tells us Herod wants him dead and is willing to kill a number of little male boys to insure it. Again, Joseph has a dream and is told to take the child and his mother to safety in the land of Egypt. Then another dream tells Joseph that it is safe for them to return, but to go on into Galilee and raise Jesus in Nazareth, an obscure little village a long way from the eye’s of the Herod’s.
When I look at my two youngest grandsons who are 8 months old and 2 years old and then think about this morning’s scripture, my blood runs cold. How could anyone want to harm little ones who are so innocent? I don’t know if this story that Matthew tells is factually accurate, but it does speak to the darker side of humanity. A darker side that still goes on today with ruling powers who commit genocide and what they justify as ethnic cleansing.
This story about Herod’s fear still speaks to us today. It speaks to us at the levels of social justice. Last month I watched the movie The Butler, which tells the story of a young black man and of his life from the 1930’s up to the election of President Obama. At the end of the movie I was so moved that I couldn’t speak, because my throat was so constricted by emotion. I knew going into the movie that I was going to be taken down memory lane of the civil rights movement of the 1960, what I didn’t realize was how much emotion I carry from that decade. I think the greatest “aha” moment that I had in that movie was in watching the news reels that dealt with the violence heaped upon those civil rights marchers and activists as they marched out against the inequality found in this country. What I saw was that those who wanted to hold onto inequality, to hold onto the power of oppression were those who acted out in violence toward those who protested peacefully. I recall how civil authorities brutalized demonstrators who spoke out against the war in Viet Nam. I was reminded that those who gain something from those who cannot defend themselves usually react violently to try and keep it.
Jesus came as a revolutionary against the greed and injustice of his time and his message still threatens the greed and injustices of our time. The promise of peace, the promise of justice, and the promise of love that comes through the birth of this baby also brings violence, resistance, and fear. Think about how Gandhi threatened the Imperialism of India, or of the Nelson Mandela’s message of unity against the Aparti in South Africa, or of Martin Luther Kings call for equality in our own country. It brings violence and unrest because it challenges those who use their power, their wealth, and their positions at the expense of those who are disenfranchised.
The problem with this child comes by what Jesus asks of us to give up. When we meet this baby, we all have a part of Herod in us. We have things that we are afraid to give up. At some levels we are afraid to turn loose of what we perceive to be our power and allow the good news that God has given us to enter into our hearts, freeing us to see others as equals in the eyes of God. On the night of Jesus’ birth, there was a joy, a peace that filled the air. In the pursuing months, there was excitement as the wise men came to meet this new born Prince of peace. And there is also fear that accompanies the news of Jesus’ arrival; fear so great that it can drive men to murder to stop the promise. And yet, this is a story of how God continues to help guide those who are willing to listen, like the dreams that came to Joseph and to the wise men so that God’s work toward justice for all people shall continue to unfold. Amen