“A New Year’s Revelation”
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, January 2, 2022
Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
A year or so ago, my husband, Chris, and I decided to upsize our TV, and I found out that this can be quite a complicated procedure. When I have looked for a new TV on my own in the past, I usually just look for a brand name that I’m familiar with and choose the one that is at the price point that I have budgeted. Chris is more of a TV expert than I am, so I learned that there are many things that one has to take into account when buying a TV: the size, the brand, the price is just the beginning. There’s also OLEDs and LCDs, and how many HDMI ports it has, and is it a SMART TV… I think the TVs now are smarter than I am. Then there’s this business of 4K, 8K, HD, 1080p…I don’t know what any of that means…or I didn’t anyway!
Well, I found out that these last four terms refer to the TV’s “resolution,” and how many pixels a TV screen can display: because each pixel is individually lit, more pixels mean more colours at one time, more depth, more details, etc., which equals better resolution. BUT…resolution, it turns out, doesn’t necessarily mean a higher quality picture overall. There’s more to the “big picture” than just the individual pixels. It turns out that what matters more is how all those pixels interact with one another when the picture on your TV is moving. Who knew?
Many of us have another kind of resolution on our minds on this first Sunday of 2022: A new year’s resolution, for those of you who are inclined, has something in common with a TV’s resolution. Now, I don’t know how many of you make New Year’s resolutions. If you do, I’d like to hear about it! Send me an email and let me know what your 2022 resolution is, or if you’re watching on Facebook you can comment in the chat box. I find the older I get, the less likely I am to make resolutions, but sometimes I do. Even if I don’t officially make a resolution, I often spend some time around the turn of the year reflecting on some of the changes I’d like to make in my life or some goals that I’d like to achieve in the months ahead.
The exercise of making a resolution can be helpful in that way – it’s a form of introspection; it helps us to focus on specific aspects of our lives that we feel aren’t quite the way we would like them to be. A resolution is a determination to do something about those areas, and to thereby make our lives better, to BE better people. As with the TV resolution, sometimes making and keeping a personal resolution can actually make our lives better, but not necessarily.
King Herod is a case in point. He made quite the resolution. It wasn’t a new year (at least not that we’re told of), but it certainly was the beginning of a new era. It happened sometime in the months after Jesus was born, perhaps up to even 2 years after his birth. “Herod the Great” as he was called, was the Roman-appointed “king of the Jews” and it is likely that he was too absorbed in his own life and his own pleasures and power that he didn’t even notice that the Messiah had been born. Why would he know or care about the birth of a baby to peasant parents in a barn in the little town of Bethlehem, removed as it was from the centre of power where Herod lived? Why would he imagine that a baby like that might be the Messiah?
Herod was notorious for many things: besides being a rock n roll icon in some circles, he was known amongst his contemporaries for his total loyalty to Rome (specifically to the power circles of Rome, because he was able to easily switch allegiances from one leader to another depending on who held power); he was known for his grandiose building projects (especially when it came to palaces for himself; although his crowning achievement was the glorious Temple in Jerusalem); he was known for family strife that would make all of our families look positively normal (for example, amongst his building projects were great fortresses where he had family members executed on occasion); and most notably he was known for his harsh repression of any opposition (like John the Baptist, who we’ll hear more about next week).
He was ruthless when it came to defending his throne. So, when wise men (Magi, or astrologers really) came to Jerusalem, having wandered there from Arabia, or Mesopotamia, or somewhere else in the eastern regions, and they told him of a star they had seen indicating the arrival of a King, Herod was taken aback, “frightened” even. Why? Because God was doing something great for the “big picture” of creation, while Herod was fixated on the “pixel” of his own life.
Now, in all fairness, his defense of his throne was understandable, in a sense. Other than the fact that some members of the dysfunctional Herod family earned their executions by trying to bump him off and usurp the throne, at that time in history Jewish people were waiting in great anticipation for the arrival of the Messiah – the true King of the Jews, appointed not by Rome, but by God. That’s why Herod calls for the priests and the scribes – to find out if this could really be the one. But he calls them “secretly” because he doesn’t want to alert the people to the possibility that the King with God’s backing might have actually arrived. If that king has arrived, that can’t mean anything good for Herod’s own position.
On hearing from the priests and scribes that this new baby does indeed fit the prophetic witness about the coming of the Lord’s Messiah, Herod made a resolution in his heart. He lies to the wise men about his intentions in this passage, but we find out in the verses immediately following that he did not want to go and worship, as he had said to the wise men; rather, he had resolved to kill any potential threat to his power, even if that meant killing baby boys by the hundreds.
With words like “frightened” (v. 3) and “secretly” (v. 7) being used to describe his desperate action against innocent babies, it is clear that his “resolution” comes from a place of myopic insecurity. The wise men, we’re told, were travelling the land, seeking the knowledge of the world that God is revealing, but Herod seeks only whatever knowledge he can use for his own perverse will and benefit. While the wise men were seeking knowledge of God, “Herod,” as Archbishop Jose Gomez recently tweeted, “… is a symbol for those rulers and forces in our world that are afraid and jealous of God; of all the forces that seek to cast God out from the world he created and to erase the memory of him from our society.” That’s the kind of leader Herod is.
Our resolutions, while not on the same scale as what Herod had determined to do, sometimes speak to our own insecurities, and can be just as myopic. The making of resolutions can say that our lives aren’t the way they ought to be, and we alone have the power to make things the way we think they ought to be. Most of us don’t want control over the world, as Herod did, but we’d like to think we have a little control over OUR world.
The self-help books that fly off the bookstore shelves this time of year offer some insight into that, and I know that I, myself get lured by these titles that promise to give me the answers to living a perfect life! A few of the titles from my bookshelves include: Living the Extraordinary Life; Living a Life that Matters; The Power of Habit; 12 Rules for Life; 30 Life Principles – I don’t know – if I can’t get 12 right, how likely am I to implement 30?
I don’t think reading self-help books is pointless, actually…it reminds me of the story of a churchgoer who commented to his pastor one time “Sermons are pointless: I have been listening to sermons for 50 years, and I don’t remember what one of them was about.” I can relate. I have preached hundreds of sermons, and I hardly remember what any of them were about.
The Pastor responded, “I have eaten three meals a day, every day of my life. I don’t remember the details of any one of them, but I’m pretty sure they have sustained me all these years, and without them I would have perished.”
We may not remember and implement every detail of all the sermons we hear or the books we read, but I’m sure that most of them on some level contribute to our well-being. We may not have perfected every resolution we’ve ever made, but I believe that the act of coming before Jesus in humble reflection before making a resolution contributes to our maturity and character growth.
Now, just as each individual pixel doesn’t guarantee a great quality picture on your TV, each personal resolution (whether successful or not) does not offer a promise of a perfect life. You know, with a TV it matters more how all the pixels move together. If you sit right up close you will actually see more detail – some say you might even be able to distinguish each pixel individually (although you’ll probably also damage your eyes) – but what you won’t see is the big picture; to see that, you have to move back a bit from the TV, and take it all in. Then you’ll see where the story is going.
The one who knows the true big picture, of course, is Jesus. That’s why taking a step back to fix our eyes on Jesus and on what God is revealing to the world through Him is more likely to lead to us living a fruitful, fulfilling life marked by peace, joy, and compassion.
The Wise Men in this morning’s passage from Matthew were the ones who – unlike Herod – had taken some steps to look at the big picture. Truth be told, they stepped so far back they were looking at the whole sky, the glorious heavens above them. If God created the universe and all the stars, then it would make sense to them that God directed their course in the sky.
The thing about the stars is that no human being can control them. Not Herod, not the Wise Men; certainly not you or me. The wise men were watching, not the things that they could control, but precisely the things that they could not control, believing that truth is more likely to be found in the things that human beings cannot manipulate. Truth is more likely to be found – not necessarily in the stars, per se – but in the things that God is doing. They wanted, not the things that they could control, but the truth that only God can reveal, and they found that in the manger in Bethlehem.
That is the big difference between them and Herod the “not-so-great-after all.” Herod’s experience of the birth of Jesus was marked by fear and secrecy. The wise men experienced JOY when God revealed to them what He had done (v. 10). Herod’s resolution came from a place of insecurity; the wise men’s revelation came from a place of trust in and reverence for God Almighty. Herod’s resolution leads to selfish jealousy; the revelation of God to the wise men leads to joy and reverence; and because of their openness to God’s revelations, they are able to perceive God’s further instructions to them to go home by some way other than Jerusalem.
They watch for what God is doing because they know that is more important than what any human can do. What God is doing is more trustworthy than what we are doing. The things that God controls are more reliable than the things we control. The things God reveals are more apt to make our lives better than the things we resolve.
If you set any resolutions this year, I hope that one of them will be to watch intently, patiently, and faithfully for the things that God is doing and making known. God is continually speaking to us, revealing his nature and love and grace to those who step back and widen their focus from the pixels of our own lives and our own desires to the big picture of what God is doing in our lives and in the world.
Now, I don’t recommend watching the stars – and please, don’t go poisoning your minds with things like horoscopes; that’s not the kind of astrologers these wise men were. But God does reveal his nature and his plans and purposes to those who seek Him in the scriptures with an open heart. God does guide our footsteps with wisdom and care when we pray, and ask, and listen for his wise guidance. God speaks to us through the wise counsel of other believers and through the wisdom of church tradition.
As you go into the year ahead, it doesn’t hurt to make resolutions – to examine the pixels of our lives and see what we could be doing better. But according to one TV shopping guide, just as important as the resolution of your TV is the angle from which you’re viewing it and the amount of light shining into the room. May the light of Christ, which overcomes all darkness and brings God’s truth into focus, be your guiding light through the coming year. Amen.