The magi come from the East seeking the newborn 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 newborn infant, they instead depart for their home another way. The magi had encountered the infant king and would share the news of his birth with joy. A sign that the good news of Jesus is for all nations, for all peoples.
King Herod, as in the time of Moses with the Pharaoh, has a different reaction: Fear. Herod fears to lose his title, power, and 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 our fears, we react with violence.
We see in today’s Gospel two very different reactions to the birth of Jesus. In coming before him, the magi become more open in their posture, leaving a different way, and moving on to share their experience with others. King Herod closes in upon himself in a defensive posture of protecting his false self and disregarding the dignity of others even to the point of ordering the death of infants.
This Christmas Season how do we respond to the birth of Christ? Do we grasp at and cling to fear or do we accept the invitation to let go of the fear and prejudice?
May we choose with the magi and Joseph to follow God’s lead that respects the dignity and value of others. Pope Francis pointed out on this feast day of the Holy Innocents in 2016 that “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 yet it is fragile and vulnerable. This Christmas Season as we continue to enjoy our family and friends, tell those we care for that we love them, may we also be willing to be more open to the cry of the innocent, the cry of the poor in our midst. Jesus, please touch our hearts that we may be willing to reach out to the need of the holy innocents of our own day, for they are family. Help us to resist assuming a posture of fear, and instead to be more open to will the good of others by allowing you to love others through us.
Photo: Pope Francis in 2015 eating lunch with the poor – L’Osservatore Romano