Today I woke up with Herod on the brain--yes, that King Herod, of long ago Bible stories. You might be saying, "Why Herod? Why now? Isn't he part of the Easter story?"
Yes, he is, but he's also part of the Christmas narrative. The wise men arrive asking where they might find this new king; they assume that the old ruler would be the logical place to start. Herod asks them to report back to him, so that he might pay tribute too. But he actually means to kill the new king.
An angel warns the wise men not to go back to Herod, and so they don't. But Herod knows they were headed to Bethlehem, and so he issues orders that all the male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem be killed. Today is the day that we honor the lost lives of those innocent children.
For more on the theological implications of this day, go to this blog post that I wrote for my theology blog or to this post I wrote for the Living Lutheran site. For the latter post, I wrote, "I have Facebook friends who angrily talk about how much they loathe religion with its manmade deities manufactured to bring us false comfort – and I wonder what kind of religious tradition they’re invoking. Many a Christian feast day reminds us that we may pay an ultimate price for our beliefs." And then there are collateral casualties, like the Holy Innocents that we remember today.
Jesus gets away. Herod's actions turn the family into refugees as they flee to Egypt. The story picks up later, in Nazareth.
A, a gap in information! What a great opportunity for our modern imaginations.
Last year, I was reading T. S. Eliot and Coleridge and had some fun imagining what might have happened. I wrote this poem, which I posted last year for Epiphany, but which makes sense to post today too.
To read the Eliot poem that inspired it all, or better yet, to hear Eliot read it, go here. Instead of talking in the voice of the magi, I'm channeling Mary here. Or is it Christ's voice? As I was writing it, I was thinking Mary. If I was a literary scholar, I could make the case for Christ or for Joseph, or for any number of political refugees. I never have Central American refugees too far from my brain, and I see some images from our current dramas in the poem too.
Here's my take on it all.
Flights of the Family
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey”
“Journey of the Magi” by T. S. Eliot
A cold coming we had of it,
the desert floor like an abandoned
sea bed, the cactus hobbling
our efforts, a murderous dictator behind
us, uncertainty ahead, only vague
warnings by an angel to serve as a guide.
We moved by night with a foreign sky
stretched above us, all celestial navigation
useless. We detoured around hostile
cities and dirty villages, angels singing
their songs to hurry us forward.
A hard time we had of it.
We stayed several summers amidst the alien
people clutching their gods. We learned
new ways of foretelling the future
in that temperate valley smelling of vegetation.
But we had to return to the kingdom of Death,
that old dispensation. I have seen birth
and death, so much death, the nails,
the pieces of silver, the thirty betrayals
that come before every daybreak.
I would be glad of another birth.
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