Pastor’s Pen December 30, 2015

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened…” Matthew 2: 1-3

         Once while driving home from church, I broke up a girl fight. I hadn’t meant to do it, but I couldn’t help myself. Driving down the street towards home, I noticed a circle of middle-school youth taunting two outraged girls who were locked in a head grip, fists clinched on one another’s hair. As I pulled in, I had hoped that the sign of a grown up and an authority would send everyone scurrying towards home. But no such luck. The girls looked murderous as they dragged one another to the ground.

         The crowd made way for me as I stepped into the ring without breaking their fixation on the obscene battle at hand. Though in memory I cannot recall how it happened, I ended up wedged between them shouting in a clear, calm voice to stop. Arms outstretched between them, there came a moment when they couldn’t punch one another without punching me, so miraculously they stopped. Fists still raised menacingly and verbal threats spewed, I noticed something. It was subtle. If I had blinked I would have missed it. Though it appeared that nothing changed, both girls for an instant, looked terrified, and then, when it was clear that it was over, they both looked relieved.

         Still speaking clearly and strongly, I shifted from the apparently welcomed command to “Stop”, to the necessary command to “Go Home.” Their dignity remained intact as neither had voluntarily quit the game. It was over, at least for that day, and the mumbling crowed dispersed, disappointed.

         When we humans are frightened, we sometimes behave badly. It creates drama, a show. At first it’s interesting, and then we see it for what it is, dangerous. King Herod’s fear over the signs of a newborn king in Bethlehem threatened the young ruler’s reign. While the wise men, the learned ones, read signs in the sky and followed the star, Herod mis-used his power to alleviate his personal anxiety, at great cost to his people.

         Stepping into the fear of Herod might have cost someone their life. It’s always a risk that the one standing in the middle will take a punch. But I wonder. Is it really inevitable that we have to kill our enemies when we become scared of them? Does posturing bigger really make us win?

         Before it’s over, these Christmas stories become bloody. All the male children under the age of two are killed, historically called the Massacre of the Innocents. The daughter of Herodias, of the clan of Herod, asked her father for the head of John the Baptist on a platter after her mother’s position as queen was challenged by him.

         The Prince of Peace comes bearing light into every darkness, illuminating every deception. We have a tendency when we’re afraid to hurt somebody out of self-protection. Jesus came to show us a more excellent way. “Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” If you’re afraid, stop what you are doing. Go home. God revealed through the life of Jesus how much God loves you and is with you. You don’t actually have to beat anybody up, including yourself.

Prayer: God or heaven and earth, the world is full of your glory. Save us from our tendency to act as fearful, anxious wads. Forgive us when we bully others in order to get our way. As we prepare for this new year, grant us the grace to listen more deeply, and respond more faithfully, rather than react when things do not turn out as we hoped or expected. Amen

God’s hope, peace, joy and love be with you,

Verlee A. Copeland