Don’t Stop, Bethlehem is 9 Miles Farther Still

Text: Matthew 2: 1-12

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, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  hen he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

Message:

When I went this May to London, I was amused to see the TomTom which is the automotive navigation system which help drivers to manuevre their cars to the right destination. Before you set out for a journey you need to enter the postal code of the destination. From the time you start a lady’s voice will guide you in your journey. If there is a turn it will clearly instruct “Turn Left and keep going”. I was really fascinated by this device as I am very poor with road directions. I can go to a place a hundred times and still end up at the wrong place when I go next. If you happen to take the wrong direction in spite of the instructions, the TomTom will reroute it and adjust to the new route taken. In a tabloid that week I read how TomTom guided one of the drivers. The driver kept going as per the device. Surprisingly he reached the edge of a cliff. The lady in the device insisted to take a left. If the driver would have heeded to the esteemed instruction, he would have a free fall into the river. Thank you very much.

Today we are meditating on the text that was very popularized by the classic carol “We Three Kings”. We see that three wise men in the quest of child who has been born king of the Jews,   employed the star as their TomTom or the GPS. The Biblical passage says that “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” (Matt 2: 1) Weird. In search of Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, they reached the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem. Was this a case of dysfunctional TomTom? Before that let us learn something about King Herod. The Roman Senate gave him the title of “King of Jews.” He was called ‘Herod the Great: King of Jews, Friend of Romans’. Herod was famous for huge building projects that he undertook. One of the historian says ‘No one in Herod’s period built so extensively with projects that shed such bright light on a relatively dark world.’ Massive stones of the temple he built along with the various buildings he built defined the landscape of Jerusalem. For the wise men what better place than Jerusalem that is buzzing urban centre with all the spectacular shows of power and riches. If a king of Jews has to be born, where else other than the palace of King Herod, the King of Jews? Sometimes in our journey of faith we get caught up in our assumptions of our destination and we end up in the wrong place. King Herod felt really threatened by this new revelation that he frantically called his chief priests and scribes to find out where exactly the Messiah was to be born. Walter Brueggeman, an Old Testament Scholar says that the coming of the Wise men to Jerusalem can be alluded as the right destination if we read the prophecy of Isaiah in Isaiah 60: 6. ‘Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.’ But the chief priest and scribes settled for much more humble a prophecy by prophet Micah.

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

    who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’” (Micah 5: 2)

In the lure of the tall buildings and symbols of power, the wise men were off their target by 9 miles, as Bethlehem was 9 miles to the south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem, a small unassuming backward village looked like a joke in front of the glorious Jerusalem. But Jesus was born in an unassuming, backward place that held no promise or hope.

When we today think of Christmas we too think like the wise men. Malls glittering with the choicest decorations, eating joints with the best Christmas offer and lovely Christmas cake is what we call ‘Christmassy.”

But the question is are we ready to reroute ourselves and travel that 9 miles that we have grossly missed. Are we ready to travel in quest of the child, king of Jews in places that has no tall buildings, luxury cars, multiplexes and malls. Because there in an obscure manger, denied room from the inn, lies baby Jesus who would one day grow up and minister and be called “The friend of sinners” which definitely was not a compliment. The gospel of Luke says that the first ones to know about birth of Jesus were the shepherds who were the outcastes of the society. ‘Jesus, The King of Jews, the Friend of Sinners’  was being accessible to those that the powerful and mighty like Herod abused and vilified.

Rev Thomas Kurien is the Associate Director of Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai. He was the former Vicar at the St. Thomas Mar Thoma Parish, Pimpri, Pune. Achen was known for his concerns of reaching out to the society. During his time he tried to reach out to the people in the neighbourhood helping them with financial aid dor surgeries and for life skills. The major focus was the slum near the church. Navjeevan Centre has a ‘Padosi’ (neighbor) Programme that reaches out to the friends of Navjeevan. In this programme the Reverend and his team were visiting the St. Thomas Church, Pimpri. Before he was about to enter the church there was a visitor at the gate of the Church. She was a lady clad in burqha. She greeted Achen with a salaam. They exchanged pleasantries. She handed over a cover to him saying “This is with gratitude for the money received from the church for my child’s bypass surgery. Use it for the project of Navjeevan.” Achen was visibly moved by this gesture and invited her to the church. But she refused to come. When he checked the cover, it was a check of Rs 5000. What better witness of a Church that has made a difference in the neighbourhood.

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Friends today we judge a city by the count of malls and multiplexes. A City is not good if it does not have a McDonalds or a KFC. To be in tune with times we are obsessed with the latest smartphones, tabs, cars and clothing. We have believed that only if we appear to be ‘cool’ and rich do we have some value. This has affected our spirituality and our celebrations of Christmas. But the text today calls us to take a reroute from our ‘Jerusalem’ of comfort to the ‘Bethlehem’ of transformation. Bethlehem literally means the “House of Bread.” It is a call for a journey to share our bread with our neighbours. We live in times where the attitude towards the poor and the not so successful people have become very cruel. These people either have become invisible for us or we conclude that because of their laziness they are poor. The Journey of Christmas is a journey from our self- centeredness to the transformation of self- giving. Let not the noise, music, celebrations and decorations drown the real meaning of Christmas. Hope you reach Bethlehem safe and sound. Let the star guide you beyond the glitter and glamour. Happy Journey. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

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