Monday, December 17, 2007

Kingdoms in Conflict

In the telling of the Christmas story, it is easy to miss the political overtones that mark Matthew's account, in particular, that would have been rather obvious to the original readers. There is far more going on than dreams, stars and gifts. The birth of Jesus is set in a context of conflict. From its very onset we hear the rumbling of trouble as we witness the response of Herod to the news of the birth of a new king. There are warnings of trouble ahead, of an inevitable clash between the temporal and the eternal, with two claims to sovereignty. Absent from Matthew is the concept of two kingdoms, God and Caesar, living side by side in relative peace and working in constructive cooperation. Instead we have two kingdoms for whom there can be no peaceful coexistence. One rules by might; the other by peace. One conquers through the vanquishing of one's foes; the other through reconciliation and sacrificing one's self. But there can be no final accommodation with rulers like Herod, no true sharing of loyalty as Jesus declares, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

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