Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary 2022 January 2 Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12 Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 Go and search diligently for the child... Herod, who features prominently in today’s account from the Infancy Narrative of the Gospel of Matthew, was by all accounts one of the more wicked leaders of the ancient world -- surely one of the most evil to appear in all of Scripture. To be sure, he had a lot of competition in the evil-department in a Roman Empire dominated by corrupt and self-serving rulers and despots, all hell-bent on maintaining and expanding their hegemony and rule at any cost. This Herod, not to be confused by the way with the Herod of the Passion Narratives of the Gospels and a different person entirely, ruled as best as can be determined, in the last years before Christ, that is, in the final years of the BC era. Which sounds at first like a contradiction; except that most scholars today date the birth of Jesus to roughly 4 BC. So, Matthew’s dating at least would appear to be accurate in this regard. Sometimes called the Great, Herod was actually anything but. He is also sometimes called king, as in today’s lesson, but again was not. He owed his rise to power in Judea to family networking and connections with Caesar in far-off Rome. During his unscrupulous rise to power, Herod seems to have had several of his brothers and at least one of his wives murdered, probably among others who may have dared to get in his way. All done legally, mind you. And his reputation for cruelty preceded him. The Story of the Magi and their suspicions of Herod’s motives, confirmed in a dream, rings true to Herod’s character even if not exactly to the historical record. So does the story of the Murder of the Holy Innocents, the killing of the male children of Bethlehem born around the same time as our Lord. That is something Herod would do, even if he did not. “Go and search diligently for the child...” Confronted by the curious figures of Magi, or sages and diviners from the mysterious East, Herod, after consulting with his advisors, commands them to do what they apparently had intended to do all along: namely, to search diligently for the Child, “born king of the Jews.” Which they promptly resume doing after their audience with Herod, leaving
Jerusalem and Herod’s Court and making their way to Bethlehem where they offer the infant Jesus their equally curious gifts of precious metal, incense, and spice; all costly commodities in the ancient world, one of which remains so even today. I am not so sure about the price these days of spice and incense. In any event, Scripture does not record Mary’s and Joseph’s reaction, nor that of the Child Jesus. It is said that wicked people sometimes end up doing or saying the right thing, even if unintentionally and by accident. And Herod’s dictum or command to the Magi may be an example of this, for we continue to “search diligently for the Child,” now some two thousand years later, during this holy season and throughout the year. Searching diligently for the Christ in the midst of the evil which surrounds us is after all, in a nutshell, pretty much what our Christian life is all about. And while the church season of Epiphany is sometimes called a season of discovery and manifestation, it could equally be described as a time of diligent searching, as we contemplate the full implications of the Incarnation for our lives today. The Revised Common Lectionary, from which our readings Sunday after Sunday are taken, occasionally provides a choice in text selection, as it does for this day. As an alternative, for instance, we could have read this morning the account from the Gospel of Luke of the Boy Jesus in the Temple. You remember the story: Jesus’ extended family go to Jerusalem at the festival of Passover. Assuming the Lad Jesus is with relatives, Mary and Joseph embark upon the long journey home to Nazareth without him in their presence, only to discover along the way that he is indeed missing. What a fright that must have been. They return “to Jerusalem to search for him,” no doubt frantic to find him alive and well. They too in other words, search for the Christ amid the hubbub and dangers of life. King Herod in all his wickedness is of course still very much with us. The world is still full of wicked leaders and unscrupulous people at all levels of society. Danger and iniquity are never far from us. You can find them in very nearly every country and nook-and-cranny of the world today. But the Magi are also still with us, as is the family of Jesus, “diligently searching” for the Christ, seeking him along the way in countryside and city alike. And the Christ Child of course is also still very much a part of this world of ours. But we too must search diligently for him. You will find the Christ among the suffering and homeless, among refugees and the disadvantaged because of race or place of birth or sexuality or gender. You will find him among all the peoples of the earth and among all conditions of humankind. You will find him in the love shared in times of fear and distress and pandemic; you will find him in the good we accomplish; and in the peace we bring to this troubled world and to troubled souls. So, if we are on a journey, as were the Magi, as was our Lord’s family, our goal should remain as clear as was theirs: To seek out this Jesus, to discover him alive and well in our world today, “to go and pay him homage,” and to celebrate once again his presence among us. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs