Christmas 1A: The Empire Strikes Back

When Love is born into the world, the Empire strikes back.


“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

It’s still the Christmas season, but right in the midst of tidings of joy, we are reminded of the cruelty and brutality still in the world. When Love is born into the world, the Empire strikes back.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, when King Herod massacres the baby boys, two and under, around Bethlehem to try to prevent Jesus from usurping his throne, falls on December 28th. Jesus survives because Joseph once again heeds the angel of the Lord in his dreams. Where would the world be if Joseph’s mind and heart weren’t open to God’s message? 

In fact, many hearts and minds are open to God’s message. This week’s passage falls right after the wise men from the East depart from Jesus’ family. The scriptures show God’s relationship with the Jewish people, but here are people of other lands and other cultures called by the same God. 

Those who would impose an exclusive literalism on scripture will have a very hard time with this story. It has astrologers, people who follow the stars, come and pay homage to Jesus, even though elsewhere the Bible astrology is forbidden. And it has Jesus and his family seeking refuge in Egypt, even though God repeatedly tells the Israelites never to go back to Egypt.

“Going back to Egypt” doesn’t refer to a place. It refers to a way of life, a way of violence and slavery and oppression. Jesus family flees all of those when they flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath, paralleling the story of Moses. 

And why is Herod so determined to kill Jesus? Herod knows that Jesus will become a new king, but he cannot fathom the kind of kingdom Jesus is ushering in. Jesus hasn’t come to rule by force, but to subvert the powers of violence and greed and exploitation. Jesus is no threat to Herod’s life, or to the image of God that is still part of Herod, buried under the world’s definitions of power and success. But, in a world where identity and wealth are measured over and against others, Jesus is a threat to the way Herod understands himself, his power, and his sense of authority.

Jesus is a threat to the powers of violence, even, especially, in his very vulnerability. Because the powers of violence and oppression are not threatened by counterviolence, but by the forces that can transform them: understanding, compassion, and love. 

Adam and Lindsey explore the uncomfortable truths of this passage: salvation doesn’t come through an all-powerful God who rescues us with violence, but an all-vulnerable God who teaches us how to face the violence of the world non-violently. How do we become like Herod in our fears, and how can we follow Jesus through those fears into redemption and transformation? Explore these questions on this episode of Jesus Unmasked. 

The Olive

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