Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the traditional date when we celebrate the arrival of the wise ones who came to the Christ child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Yes, there are plenty of jokes about these so-called "wise men" ... as in "How wise could they be to bring those kinds of baby gifts? Wise women would have brought diapers, onesies and casseroles."
But setting some snark aside (sorry ... can't get rid of all of it), these mysterious strangers come from a foreign land. They are "others" ... non-Jews ... outside the covenant of Abraham. I think it is fascinating this vignette comes from Matthew who scholars believe was writing for a Jewish audience and doing his best to convince them that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. It is Matthew who includes the story of outsiders coming to worship and bring their gifts to the Christ child. Outsiders become the insiders and Herod, the consummate "insider" of his kingdom, becomes the one outside of grace ... and who will go on to command his soldiers to kill all of the baby boys in Bethlehem just to make sure there are no threats to his throne.
We still have our "Herods" with us. Turn on the news and watch what is happening in Syria and in the Sudan. It happened in Kurdistan and Srebrenica and Rwanda and Bosnia and ... a threat to power is still met with overwhelming force and brutality ... and children die.
So this is the world God decided to come into as a helpless baby? In terms of realpolitik, it seems like God might have come up with a better plan - one where some awesome show of power would lay a can of whoopass onto the Herods of our world. But maybe that's just it ... there is no other plan ... and no way out but death.
St. Augustine once said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Our restlessness only ceases in death ... death to ourselves and our way of living. Death to the power we try to extort from God and others. Death to manipulations and lies and exploitation. Death to our attachments and idolatrous addictions. And ... finally ... Death of the body itself.
But we hate the idea of death and we try to avoid it at all costs. We'd rather put our trust in ourselves than follow the path to death and beyond to find our real home. And when we do, we become tyrants. Perhaps not as obvious as Herod as most of us don't have soldiers at our disposal to send out to do our dirty work. Truth be told, we're pretty good at doing our dirty work ourselves. We keep trying to find our home in God ... but only by the paths we want to take ... and it's not working.
The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to a tyrant ... so they went home by another way.
Maybe this year it is time to give up returning to our tyrant selves and embrace death ... and go home by another Way.