The magi come from the East seeking the new born king. They follow the natural sign of the star, and they are led into Jerusalem. They lose or turn away from the star and seek instead the ruler, Herod, to help them find the child. But after meeting with Herod they again see the star and come to Jesus, do him homage, and share their gifts. Warned in a dream not to return to Herod with the location of the new born infant, they instead depart for their home another way. The magi had encountered the new born king and would share it with joy. A sign that the good news of Jesus is for all nations, for all people.
King Herod, as in the time of Moses with the Pharaoh, has a different reaction: Fear. Herod fears losing his title, power, prestige. “When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi” (Mt 2:16). Often when we are led by fear, we react with violence.
We see in today’s Gospel two very different reactions to the birth of Christ. The magi experience the joy of the birth of Jesus that can lead to new life and a new beginning moving away from our self centered postures out to others, or King Herod’s defensive posture of protecting the false self and disregarding the dignity of others even to their deaths. This Christmas Season how do we respond to the birth of Christ? Do we accept the invitation to let go of the fear and prejudice within or do we grasp and cling to them?
May we choose with the magi and Joseph to follow God’s lead and so experience the joy and freedom from our false self and the freedom for excellence to pursue our vocation that respects the dignity and value of others. As Pope Francis pointed out on this feast day of the Holy Innocents in 2016: “Christian joy does not arise on the fringes of reality, by ignoring it or acting as if it did not exist. Christian joy is born from a call – the same call that Saint Joseph received – to embrace and protect human life, especially that of the holy innocents of our own day. Christmas is a time that challenges us to protect life, to help it be born and grow.”
Life is a precious gift at all stages of its development, yet life is fragile and vulnerable as we have unfortunately witnessed in the deaths of two holy innocents of our day, Jakelin Caal age 7 and Felipe Alonzo Gomez, age 8 who died this past week in US custody on our border. May their tragic deaths move us to protect all human dignity from the moment of conception, through each stage of development, until natural death. This Christmas Season may we continue to enjoy our family, tell those we care for that we love them, while also be willing to listen and respond to the cry of the innocent, the cry of the poor in our midst. Immigrants are people, they are family, our brothers and sisters, many in dire need. We need not fear them, but if we say we follow Jesus, we are to love them.
Photo: The Christmas funeral of Jakelin Caal, just three days ago in Guatemala. Catholic News Service photo: Carlos Barria, Reuters.