The Christmas narrative found in the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke provide striking contrasts in tone and style. The manner in which we "weave" them together is interesting and, I suppose, our only option in an attempt to gather up as many details as possible about the birth of Jesus.
Matthew's story feels dark and foreboding. Parts are downright frightening--dreams, heavenly beings, visitors from a faraway land, the plot of an evil despot to see the child murdered, flight by night to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the innocents. Quite a story full of action, hope and horror.
Luke's version aims to introduce a new world order! The narrative is much longer. There is a determined emphasis on extended family. A community begins to emerge. The visions feel triumphant and grand. The promises are grounded in a power that refuses to turn back! Music is everywhere--the pregnant women, the angels, the shepherds. Watch that one: the shepherds have front row seats, not a position they are accustomed to occupying. Prophets affirm the unique nature of the child. There is no abiding fear, no flight away in the darkness.
Matthew's Herod sounds like he had read Luke's version of the story! The madman king is scared witless by a new born baby, a baby born to very poor, seemingly powerless parents.
He seeks to kill the child because of his fear.
Herod's fear is well-placed actually.
Somehow the church has lost its appreciation for this fundamental truth concerning the life of Jesus. The loss seems strange to me since the truth is placed at the heart of the story from the very beginning. Here the gospel reveals to us a very dangerous Messiah.
Can you hear this truth?
You'll find the voices of many witnesses throughout Luke's version of the life of Jesus.
However, the truth of the dangerous Messiah appears first as a song that Mary sang when greeted by her kinswoman, Elizabeth. Listen to just a verse or two as Mary sings about the nature of the child she carries and the intentions of God for this special baby's life:
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)
Yes, Herod had good reason to fear this child.
This child, when grown, would go on a mission of turning tables, establishing justice and extending compassion and hope to anyone who did not have it because of leaders like the insane and evil king.
Herod knew exactly what he was doing by going after the baby. Thankfully, he just didn't prevail.
The child reveals what God intends to be about in the world.
For those of us who claim to follow the child, Christmas reminds us of the true nature of our mission and calling.
As we light our candles and sing the carols, we would do well to remember that for some we may even appear a little dangerous ourselves, just like this very special child.
For most though, we will appear to be those who bring hope and promise and great music!