The headline in the Indianapolis Star read, “Baby Jesus Gets GPS.” The reporter began his story with: “Attention thieves and pranksters considering nabbing the baby Jesus from the Indiana Masonic Home’s Nativity scene: Don’t do it. Jesus has GPS.”
Yes, it’s been a problem for a while. People, whether pranksters or folks just up to no good, have been stealing the statues of Baby Jesus from manger scenes, so the churches are fighting back with a little technology: GPS. If the statues move just few inches, the GPS will detect it and set off alarms.
There was an episode of Dragnet – Yes, I watched that as a kid – where Friday and Smith encounter the same crime on the first day after Christmas, but they didn’t have GPS to help them find Jesus. After an extensive search they failed to retrieve the missing statue and were in the sanctuary talking things over with the priest. It was then that they all three heard something coming up the aisle. After a few moments a young boy came into view, pulling a little red wagon and in the wagon was the missing statue. Before Friday could say a word the little boy said, “I promised the baby Jesus that if I got a wagon for Christmas, I would give Him the first ride.”
Unlike the ones that would steal Jesus, the little boy was only giving Jesus a ride in his new wagon, but there are some that will go to great lengths to remove this newborn King not only from the nativity scenes, but from their lives as well.
The first such time occurred soon after the birth of Jesus and it is those events that we remember today.
Caesar Augustus ruled over the Roman Empire from 27 BC to 14 AD following the rule of Julius Caesar. It was during Augustus’ rule that he fought a fierce battle against Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, a.k.a. Mark Antony and Cleopatra. While the tensions were rising between Augustus and Cleopatra, folks were taking sides. Mark Antony chose wrongly and so did one other, Herod the Great. Herod Antipas was his son who would be king at the time of Jesus crucifixion. Yet, Herod the Great sided with Mark Antony. Such a decision could have cost him his life, but being the slippery one, Herod immediately set out for Rome.
Once there he was able to gain an audience with Augustus where he boldly yet humbly – not even wearing his crown – confessed his loyalty and friendship to Antony, finally saying to Caesar Augustus, “What I ask of you is to consider not whose friend, but what a good friend, I was.” I suppose it’s a case of “Better the devil you know, than the one you don’t,” because Augustus decided he could trust Herod. Augustus told him to put back on his crown and return to Palestine. There Herod gained a more secure hold on his throne than he had even experienced in the past, and from that point on became more tyrannical and brutal, and just to make it a bit more interesting – insane.
He had ten wives and many children. His sons were seen by him as political rivals, so when he became particularly suspicious of one of them he would have them put to death. He would later become suspicious of his favorite wife and have her put to death, then in his insanity would wander around his castle calling out her name looking for her. He would then send out servants to find her and when they came back without her would have them beaten.
As he neared the end of his life, he was not only greatly feared, but also hated and he knew it, so he ordered that 1,000s of notable men and women be arrested and held in the stadium at Jericho, where at the time of his death they were to be executed. Why? So there would be at least someone mourning in the land when he died. Crazy with a capital “C.”
It is in the midst of this brutality and insanity that he is visited by the three wisemen who claimed that a new King had been born in Palestine. Instead of putting these men to death, he encouraged them to continue on their journey to find the King, saying to them, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Yet, after seeing Jesus, Scripture tells us that the wisemen “having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Which brings us to our Gospel reading for today, “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.”
These children are who we remember today and are known as the Holy Innocents. At the time, Bethlehem was a small town, so it is estimated that the number put to death was between twenty to thirty.
Some might simply steal a ceramic Baby Jesus from a nativity scene, but there are others who would go to any extent to remove this Christ Child from their lives and from the world. Not only in the time of Herod, but in our lives today. Jesus is a threat to any who prefer their life to a life in God. Like Herod, they want to be the only king and refuse the call to be obedient to the one who has called them out of darkness into His holy light.
As a Christian people we recognize that there are none who can kill Jesus, not even the cross could accomplish that. However, what we must guard against is spiritually killing him in our own lives, by turning from Jesus and living in mediocrity. Choosing a life of the ordinary over the extraordinary. No, we cannot cause the physical death of Jesus, but we can dissolve into a spiritual apathy. A spiritual death where this child King can place no challenges on us and no longer has influence over our lives. Unlike a secular ruler, such as Herod, Jesus will not force our obedience. Out of His great love for us, He will constantly call us out of our own Egypt, but in the end He will sadly allow us to walk away. Therefore, we must stay vigilant in our faith, continuously orienting or reorienting our lives toward Him and fueling our passion for being His disciples.
What does that look like? From the desert fathers: Abba Lot goes to Abba Joseph and says, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
Like the Holy Innocents there have been many who have died because of the Child in the manger. We honor them all by remaining faithful to the one who has called us. We become worthy of their sacrifice when we live as children of God. If you will, become all flame. Be transformed by this Child in the manger and bring honor to all those that have gone before us and even greater glory to God.Sermo