Usually, I wait until I'm finished writing a post to try to think of a title. Yesterday I was reminded why. I started out with a title for my post--"The Powers of This World"--because I wanted to contrast the Holy Family's flight into Egypt with Herod's expression of tyrannical violence. I ended up writing something about theodicy--why a God good allows/causes bad things to happen--which didn't really reflect the title. But I posted it anyway, knowing that today I would try again. So here goes.
Herod and Jesus. A despotic, illegitimate, Roman-sympathizing king and a gentle, authentic, God's-kingdom-bringing messiah. One rules from a palace while the other flees to Egypt. One displays immense earthly power, but the other seems largely powerless. One tries to solve his problem by killing all male children under the age of two, and the other runs and hides and waits until danger is past.
The question of true power is related to my post yesterday. Think about all of the ways this could have gone down. The sign of the birth of God's true king has been seen in the stars by some sages from the east, and, when Herod hears of it, he does whatever he can to undermine this event. But he's working against the powers of the universe. How can he stop a plan that has been revealed in the heavens? He tries to get the wise men to divulge to him the location of the baby, but they avoid Herod and his plot. So Herod does what he can and murders countless babies. Of course, God's power cannot be undone--even by this tremendous and terrible display. But how else might it have happened?
This battle between the forces of evil and the forces of God could have played out in a way worthy of a movie screen--one warrior dueling the other on the battlefield. It could have involved a long-running plot of near-misses and coincidental encounters. Jesus could have grown up, spending years training for the day when he would attack the heir of the evil king. Or Joseph could have put on armor and stood at the gate of the palace and called out the evil ruler. Or any number of other things could have happened, but they didn't. Instead, Jesus and his family tucked tail and ran.
God told them to run away, to flee, to hide. There was no confrontation. Instead, patience and confidence that God's rule would win out was all that carried them. Jesus and his parents aren't really the hero we expect. In fact, at the end of the story, Herod's heir isn't challenged. The rule of the despot's successor remains intact. Even more troubling, the hero dies in the end--and not a heroic death but a terrible and shameful crucifixion. Imagine going to a movie and watching a beloved character wait 30 years to avenge the death of thousands of his contemporaries only to fail in the end. Well, that's pretty much what happens...except for the whole Easter thing. Even still, it doesn't make for a very good movie. The only kind of audience this story can entertain are those who can accept the quiet, gentle, subtle power that comes with God's kingdom. It's not a blockbuster, but it's good news.