In the nativity story we run into the account of the Magi, traditionally called wise men. They go to Jerusalem to inquire of Herod where the king of the Jews is to be born. We know the rest of that story. The aftermath is that Joseph warned in a dream by the angel, takes the young child Jesus, and his mother Mary, and flees to Egypt for a time. Herod puts to death all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger. Herod will not let his reign in Israel be challenged by anyone.
We live in a world in which there is wickedness. People are put to death by those acting as tyrants, evildoers. Justice is not known, but is hungered and thirsted after in such places. And yet there are those who fancy God as being somehow just this kind benevolent god who would never hurt anyone, immensely loving all, and in the end forgiving everyone out of that love.
But such a view fails miserably in terms of scripture, and specifically in terms of the Advent story. The Word becomes flesh, God becomes human, not to simply forgive everyone out of love. Though all God does is done out of his love, including his judgment. But in Jesus God becomes one of us to lift us not only into his very Presence, but his very Life. And God does that not merely by forgiving humans who somehow respond to this forgiveness. No. God does it through Jesus and his death for us, after which his resurrection seals the final destiny of all humans who will be part of the new humanity in Jesus.
Nothing less than death was necessary in God’s justice and for God’s forgiveness, all done and accomplished out of love. In Jesus through baptism we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection life. By faith we begin to live out this new life here and now. There is truth in the saying: Jesus was “born to die.” “Born to die that man might live.”
Simeon prophesied of this to Mary and Joseph, that indeed a sword would pierce Mary’s heart, something foreboding happening to the child in order that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed. Actually God’s judgment and salvation always go together in scripture. That God is a righteous Savior is a staple in the old covenant/Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, which is fulfilled in the new covenant in Jesus and in Jesus’ blood, that is his death for humankind.
What happened to Herod? We know in time that Herod died after which an angel told Joseph in a dream that it was time to return to Israel, though Joseph moved back to Nazareth. “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small…” (Longfellow’s translation of Friedrich von Logau, “Retribution”, Sinngedichte III, 2, 24) It was allegedly a horrible death according to the Jewish historian Josephus. Though scripture simply states that he died (Michael J. Wilkins). But one thing we can be sure of: God’s judgment is just. God is good and in his goodness will bring true justice in the end. Although we cannot answer all the questions, we leave all in God’s good, loving and faithful hands.
In Jesus God comes as a god of judgment. A god who takes judgment on himself for the world. For you and I in Jesus. That our sins may be forgiven and that we might live a new life- in Jesus. Indeed that God’s salvation might come to the world!