Herods – the old and the new

King Herod is a character from the Christmas story – the “three kings” go and see Herod to ask where the “king of the Jews” has been born.

King Herod was a tyrant. He was Rome’s puppet king from about 37BC to 4 or 3 BC. He ruled through fear, imprisonment, torture and massacres. He was fiercely loyal to Caesar and built many great buildings across Judea in homage to Rome and its emperor.

The three kings were “magi” (and there may have been more than three – they just happened to give three gifts). Magi were many things – some were astrologers, some magicians, some interpreters of dreams, and some were political advisers in the courts of Persia.

Like wizards from the Lord of the Rings – Gandalf and Saruman, both key players, advisers of the political leaders and able to wield their own magic for good or ill.

These mysterious, powerful figures arrive in Jerusalem (not Bethlehem) seeking to find this new king and maybe influence or disrupt the politics of the day. They managed to get to the heart of Jerusalem, to Herod himself, with the threat of a new king.

Matthew who writes this story has a message to the powerful – beware of this one who comes and who will proclaim a new kind of kingdom.

How do we hear Matthew’s story today, as the attention of the world turns to the inauguration of a new president? A president who could not be more different from his predecessor Barack Obama. Will President Trump be a Herod?

People are certainly fearful that he might. His policies of exclusion have already incited much fear. Where might they lead?

The Episcopal Church in the US is finding itself caught in a difficult position. There is traditionally a service at Washington’s National Cathedral on the day after the inauguration to pray for the new president and the administration. Many wondered if they would decline to hold the service as the Cathedral has a strong legacy on issues of justice, race and equality. The service is going ahead as usual. Prayer is not endorsement and Mr Trump is, after all, America’s duly elected president. We know though that many tyrants started out their political lives as elected leaders.

Other churches are making statements of commitment to support immigrants and work against hate speech.

St Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle has issued a statement which you can read here: http://www.saintmarks.org/serve/volunteer/governance/renewing-our-covenant/

They are starting with themselves – go deeper, listen; and then committing themselves to follow gospel values and to enact them.

We in Aotearoa can do nothing about President Trump but we can start with ourselves and call our government to be vigilant, to speak on the side of justice, as I believe they did in the recent UN Resolution on the Israeli settlements in Palestine.

The Herods of our world gain power and keep power when the people are silent.

Herod was terrified of a baby that was born, a baby that elicited the homage of strangers from the east. They brought gifts that spoke of his future –people would claim him as king (gold); they would worship him (frankincense); they would bury him (myrrh).

Yet this baby would bring a lasting gift – the gift of hope promised by the prophets. Hope grounded in the deep knowledge of our God who was born in the midst of political turmoil and fear, and was never overcome.






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