SUNDAY SERMON: Imagined Enemies

Stephen Baldwin 

OT: Isaiah

NT: Matthew 2.1-12

Imagined Enemies 

What scares you? When I was a kid, the thing that scared me more than anything else…was clowns. This persisted well into my 20s! I refused to be in proximity to a clown. Just couldn’t do it. Never, ever trust a clown. Maybe I’m alone in that fear, but we all have irrational fears that don’t make a lot of sense to the outside world, but they make perfect sense to us. 

The other kind of fears we face are rational ones. We have good reason for being scared due to a prior life experience. For example, our dog is afraid of lightning. He lived most of his life in a car and then chained outside before we got him, so it’s a rational fear. He didn’t have much protection against storms as a pup. 

We all face fears. Some for good reason, some for no particular good reason. But that doesn’t make them any less powerful. If we let them, our fears can control our entire lives. Look at Herod. 

He was afraid of losing his crown. So when a couple of wanderers, wise men from the East, show up in town talking about a baby being born as king of the Jews, his ears perked up. Now, keep in mind that the wise men are Gentiles; they are not even Jews themselves!  But they show up saying the king of the Jews has been born, and Herod (who is king himself of the Jews, Gentiles, and everyone in between) freaks out. Like me when I see a clown.  

“King?  Did you say the king of the Jews has been born?  Gather all of the priests and scribes, immediately, and have them tell me where the Messiah is to be born.  I will find him, and I will end this.”

It amazes me that Herod would take such drastic action based on one silly rumor from three silly wanderers.  They merely asked a question, wondering whether a child had been born as king of the Jews and where?  He not only assumed the answer was yes, but he took drastic action as a result of that assumption.  He schemed the wanderers into finding the child so he could kill him.  All based on a rumor.  All because he assumed.  

It would be easy for me to judge Herod for being a short-sighted, irrational, fear-monger who believes anything anybody says, but I can be just like him.  We all can be sometimes.  

A friend said this week that the things people do to frustrate us often say more about our own faults than theirs, and I think that’s true.  The thing that frustrates me most about Herod is how his fear leads him to do a dumb thing.  Just like we step on a spider that we are afraid of, he wants to step on the child he is afraid of.  Irrational fears can not only be harmful; they can be deadly.  If you don’t know this from your own experience, just ask the children of Bethlehem.  

Herod’s uncontrollable fear of a baby boy whom he believes to be a threat to his power leads him to do inconceivably evil things.  He not only tries to deceive the wise men, but when that doesn’t work he goes on a killing spree, murdering goodness knows how many innocent boys in search of the one they called a king.  What would drive him to do such a terrible thing?  How could he?  

Fear.  He was afraid of the boy.  No, he was afraid that the boy might take his power.  Fear blinded him.  Fear made him paranoid.  Fear led him to violence.  The baby boy was his imagined enemy, and he would stop at nothing to destroy him.  

Do you have an imagined enemy?  Is there a person, or a substance, or a possession that haunts your thoughts?  Does it crawl inside of your spirit, convince you that you should be afraid of it, and cause you to do unseemly things that are not like you?    

The problem with allowing fear to control your actions is simple.  If you act out of fear, you will never get past it.  Fear only breeds more fear.  If you can’t see past your fear, you will see what it wants you to see, hear what it wants you to hear, feel what it wants you to feel.  It begins an uncontrollable cycle which will take control of you, just like it did Herod.  

The wise men are just the opposite of Herod.  Instead of acting out of fear, they act out of hope.  They follow a star.  They travel a long distance.  All to pay respect to a king, not even their king, who they felt would give the world hope over and against violent tyrants like Herod.  I imagine they too were afraid—afraid of the journey, afraid they may be on a wild goose chase, afraid what Herod might do to them.  They had good reason to be afraid, but they had the good sense not to let fear control them.  Instead, they were guided by hope just as they were guided by a star.  

The story of our faith is a story of hope rising against and above fear.  Once upon a time a young boy was born to an unexpected mother.  They fled a vengeful king to save the boy’s life, and he grew to be the greatest his people had ever seen.  The boy’s name was Moses, and against all odds he outlived Pharaoh’s massacre and saved his people from their own fearful destruction.  

That story is also the story of the baby Jesus—born to an unexpected mother, fled from a vengeful king, he grew to be the greatest his people has ever seen.  Just like Moses, the baby Jesus gave people hope that fear and Pharaohs would not have the last word.  

Fear and hope are ways of living.  Herod exemplifies living by fear.  His imagined enemies are more numerous than the stars.  The wise men exemplify living by hope.  Their hope is beyond the stars.  You see the results in today’s story.  Fear leads to death.  Hope leads to life.  How will you live?  Amen. 

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