‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah…’
Reflections on the Nativity Gospels, #6
‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles.’ So the elder Symeon called the baby Jesus as he held in infant in his arms (Luke 2:32). The clearest symbol of this enlightenment was the Star that appeared in the east.
Yet, as the Magi who discerned the star knew full well, this revelation was not enough. It had to be reinforced by the prophets of Israel as found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the repository of the fullness of God’s will for his people. For this reason, the Magi traveled to Jerusalem to ask ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ (Matthew 2:2).
King Herod of Judea thereupon called a gathering of the chief priests and the scribes who informed the Magi of two prophecies that would guide them. The first, from the prophet Micah, they learned that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, since he was of the lineage of David.
A second prophecy forecast that the Messiah would not only be David’s heir, born in David’s city, but he would be like David in the nature of his rule:
a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ (II Samuel 5:2).
It is true that no shepherds appear at the birth of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (you will find them the Gospel of Luke). Both Gospels remind us, however, that Christ himself would fulfill his mission in the way that will earn him the title of the Good Shepherd (John 13).
Before we continue with the Magi on their journey to Bethlehem, we should deal with a painful irony that Matthew exposes. The Magi are the ones who respond to the momentous Nativity event Bethlehem with worshipful and joyous anticipation. On the other hand, the Herod and the religious elite who have seen the fulfillment of their very own scriptures react with fear and anger.
For Herod, who covets the title King of the Jews himself, the child is not the savior, but a competitor. As for the scribes and pharisees, their reaction foreshadows their future rejection of Jesus. For Matthew, the nativity of Christ is a foreshadowing of Christ’s passion. Examine our Nativity icon and you will discover that within the halo of the Baby Jesus there is already a cross.
The righteous elder Symeon tells us of another revelation to accompany that of the Star.
This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed (Luke 2:33-34)
Yet the despite the murderous results of Herod’s bitterness, the story does not end there, but with God’s intervention to thwart human hatred.