Fourth Day of Christmas
Imagine a country where an occupying force is draining the lifeblood out of its newly acquired subjects by humiliating them personally, economically, and religiously.
In personal terms, the government declares that all subjects must learn a new language to accommodate and pay homage to the new leadership. In economic terms, the people are forced to pay a tribute to the occupying power in addition to the payment of taxes to the regional authorities. In religious terms, even this people’s cultic leaders—including their king—appear to be collaborating with the occupying force by displaying trophies of conquered nations in public spaces and by dedicating buildings to the Emperor.
Given the triple burden of tithes, tributes, and taxes, all but the most privileged are reduced to poverty. Civil unrest simmers, eventually erupting in clashes and demonstrations against the empire. Some peasants are massacred. Resisters are arrested. And righteous anger borne of hunger and indignity churns.
Can you imagine, then, the hope that is ignited when some men from the East, from the caste of the magoi, high ranking politico-religious officers from Persia, arrive on the scene, inquiring about signs that a new king has been born? Can you appreciate the threat that their proclamation poses to the entire apparatus of religious and political power?
Indeed, the context makes the king’s reaction predictable, even if reprehensible. “He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under" (Matthew 2:16). And so it is that the pattern of Israel’s flight from danger, refuge in Egypt, and miraculous deliverance from bondage is recapitulated in the Holy Family’s story—a pattern that becomes central to our own lives of faith.
God of life and God of light, awaken in us your holy wish that we all might flee from danger to find refuge in you. May the solace we find in your loving arms enliven in us the courage to resist systems of evil that persist to our day. May we walk in the light of Jesus, who remains our king and our savior. Amen.
Professor of Systematic Theology