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after christmas – Matt. 4

May 29th, 2004 by isaac · No Comments

I wrote this for the winter edition of our community house newsletter. If you want to recieve our newsletter please email your address to us at

After Christmas, Matthew ch. 4.

Mothers wail and writhe as they face the beasts of death—the beasts that feast on human flesh in an orgy of violence, that swallow the hope of new life as they tear apart bodies. Powers from the dark bowels of hell unleash their terror on God’s people. At the command of King Herod they drink deep the blood of children, the children of Israel. The unthinkable becomes reality. Worst nightmares come true. The skies holding back the chaotic darkness crash down upon God’s creation, upon his covenanted people—his beloved bride murdered before his eyes. “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Bethlehem’s children are no more. Darkness settles over the land. This is the “time of King Herod.”

Will God remain silent as he hears the cry of innocent blood? Will God turn a deaf ear to Rachel’s screams? No. But do we have ears to hear God’s answer, God’s Word?

“In the time of Herod,” as the prince of darkness hovers over the land, after all hope is devoured, “the people who sat in darkness” see a “great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Matt. 4:16). The powers of darkness lash out as they see the sun breaking through on the horizon. They realize the dawn of this new age will end the old age during which they freely roam the land, striking out in terror. King Herod knows the arrival of the king of the Jews threatens his dominion over the people. The travelers from the East come seeking “the child who has been born king of the Jews” and Herod, the incarnation of worldly power, whose word wields the sword of death, shudders. It is this lowly Messiah who appears without majesty that shakes the foundation of Empire. It is this human child that “startles many nations” (Isa.52:12). From Herod’s position of power, the good news of the kingdom of the Messiah is terrifying. When the reign of the Messiah begins Herod knows that the power of the earthly ruler is relativized (“Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”). A new Kingdom is at hand and it renders suspect the empire’s economic and political grip. Citizenship in this new Kingdom makes earthly authority arbitrary (“Seek first the Kingdom of God”). Caesar and Herod can no longer claim the lives of the people; they no longer hold the people in bondage. As Herod discerns the “bad news” of the present time, he must act to save his dominion over the people. He knows he must snuff out the embers of the Messiah’s coming kingdom before it spreads like wild fire across the land. For this reason King Herod trembles. For this reason he must kill all the children in Bethlehem. For this reason Herod cannot follow the lead of the wise men from the East and bow down to Israel’s Messiah.

But as the shadow of death, the shadow of the powers of darkness, make their last stand against the hope of the world, God’s Word becomes flesh. The answer to Rachael’s cries is Emmanuel—”God with us”—who fights the demonic beasts in the desert and comes out proclaiming “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” God’s light shines in the darkness and Herod’s worst fears come true—his mighty arm of death cannot overcome it. Through the nightmares of Bethlehem’s mothers shines the light of a reoccurring dream—a dream that awakes the sleeper with tears of hope. The Messiah’s Kingdom is the daydream that gives hope to those who struggle under Empire’s boot. For Israel under foreign dominion, the Messiah is the answer to their years of “wailing and loud lamentation.” It is the weak who pray along with Pope John Paul II, “O Holy Night, so long awaited, which has united God and man for ever! You rekindle our hope. You fill us with ecstatic wonder. You assure us of the triumph of love over hatred, of life over death.”

Have we squelched the burning hope for something better—that spark of hope that cries out from the depths of our being—with the entrancing water of worldly realism that says we must give up on our imagination and seek to make the best of what the system has to offer? The gospel pleads with us, don’t let the world kill your Kingdom imagination—don’t give up hope in the Kingdom of God. Don’t doubt the revolution that Jesus Christ started and sustains in his Church.

Tags: kingdom naturalists