Take a Different Road: 4th Sunday in Advent

Matthew 2:1-12; Numbers 24:17-19; Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-14

The Elves cut Matthew’s gospel to shreds so that it can be applied to the four Sundays in Advent according to Christian dogmatic belief and teachings.  In contrast to previous years, this blog is going right through Matthew from beginning to end.  As we have seen, Matthew’s stories coincide nicely with Advent without all the skipping and cutting and proof-texting – let alone all the apocalyptic fear-mongering normally offered up on the 4th Sunday.

Matthew does enough proof-texting of his own, as he builds his case for Jesus as the new Moses. In some translations of Matthew’s opening lines, the story of Jesus is the genesis of not only Jesus the man, but of a new scriptural order.  He offers his gospel as the actualization (if not a replacement) for Torah.

In the story about the visitation of the astrologers, Matthew reminds his community of the star of David (Numbers 24:17-19) and of a leader of a Messianic revolt from the century before called “Son of the Star.”  “[A] star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel . . . One out of Jacob shall rule . . . .”  Then he combines Micah 5:2 with 2 Samuel 5:2, making Bethlehem – the City of David – the focal point: “For some time while Saul was king over us, it was you [David] who led out Israel and brought it in.  The Lord said to [David]: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel” (2 Sam. 5:2); “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

Matthew continues to mock imperial theology.  The birth of a peasant is announced by court astrologers, and a special star appears at the time of birth and leads them to his birthplace.  But the birthplace is not a palace.  It is the “little town of Bethlehem,” home to one of the lesser clans of Judah.  The astrologers (who of course have become “kings” in Christian mythology) present this peasant child with gifts worthy of Caesar: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Not to read too much into this (why not, it’s been done for 2,000 years), but these court astrologers would seem to be clueless, as they ask the current appointed “king” of Roman Palestine, “where is the newborn king of the Judeans?  We have seen his star and want to pay him homage.”

What king is going to be welcoming of a threat to his power?  Herod calls together “all the ranking priests and local experts” and demands to know the time and place when this supposed “king of the Judeans” is to be born (Five Gospels translation).  Then he finds out precisely when the portent appeared in the sky, and the stage is set for the slaughter of the innocents – which we will consider next week.

It seems that in the midst of a holy birth, the controversy has already begun.  We don’t have time to marvel or wonder or celebrate.  The powers and principalities are always on the lookout for whatever might possibly be a counter to their rule.  For example, in the past week, two separate dramas have been played out in the news cycle: one in the U.S. Congress, and the other world-wide.

The U.S. Congress has been in a fight over a compromise tax bill recommended by the President.  The Democrats see the proposed Bill as a capitulation to the wealthy interests at the expense of the middle and working classes.  The Republicans see it as a win for their party.  After all, it’s unfair to leave anybody out of a tax cut – especially the wealthy.  To the Left in the United States, the Bill is a sell-out of distributive justice, which we all thought Mr. Obama would champion.  To the Right, the Bill vindicates their “trickle-down” economic theories.  Because of Republican use of procedural rules, the Tax Bill must be ratified before they will allow any other legislation to be considered by the Senate.  Therefore, the Majority Leader, Harry Reid, has declared the Senate will be in session until Midnight January 4 if necessary in order to clear the docket.

Howls of outrage from the Right have claimed that the Democrats have declared war on Christmas.  The most holy day in the Christian Year (other than Easter) must not be disrespected, huffed the offended  Senate Minority Whip.  Never mind that most Americans who still are lucky enough to be employed will only have a half-day off on Christmas Eve, and will be back at work full-time on Monday December 27.

Herod’s pious desire to find out where the newborn King may be found masks his real agenda.  Likewise, Congressional Republicans pretend to pay homage to Christmas, while making sure the Tiny Tims of the world are denied food, clothing, shelter, and medical care – notwithstanding presumptive speaker Boehner’s crocodile tears.  Inquiring minds might like to know how many of those outraged legislators will actually attend church on December 26, and how many will be in the malls exchanging the items they or their families really don’t want.  Maybe they can re-gift them to the poor.

Meanwhile, on the global stage, the founder of Wikileaks dodges bricks pried from the foundations of U.S. liberty, as the State Department, the FBI, the Army, and the CIA throw whatever they can find at him in the attempt to prove he is guilty of espionage.  The Swedes (inexplicably) are doing their best to extradite him to Stockholm.  Given the times and the precedent, it is quite likely Mr. Assange would be extraordinarily rendered elsewhere as soon as he leaves British soil.  At the same time, the hapless Army private, who allegedly supplied much of the latest flurry of documents launched into the viral internet, has languished in solitary confinement since May 2010, subjected to forced anti-depressant drugs.  So far – despite the worst excesses of old Soviet-style repression – Private Manning has apparently not confessed to anything, nor implicated anyone else.   Silent sheep in the shearing shed come to mind.

This is the “normalcy of civilization.”  Folks who claim to be Christians need to decline to return to Herod’s palace, and return to God’s realm by a vastly different route.

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