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Thought for the weekend


By Allen Sleith

The Christmas story we celebrate in our churches is mainly based on two gospel narratives; Matthew and Luke.

The latter tells of angelic choirs and local shepherds, both groups responding to the good news of Jesus' birth by singing their praises to God, thus the prominent place given to hymns and carols in this season's worship.

Matthew takes another tack. His focus is on wise men, often called Magi, who came westwards to Judea, following a star that had risen in the east.

The Magi may well have been Zoroastrians from Persia, monotheists but Gentiles, and thus representing the nations beyond Israel. King Herod in Jerusalem was another rising star. In the volatile politics of the region he was seeking to gain and keep the ascendancy in perennial power struggles lasting many centuries. The people of Israel, you see, had successively been ruled by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, to which you could add local despots like Herod and his dynasty.

When the star they had followed finally comes to rest over Bethlehem, the Magi know their pilgrimage has come to its climax, and sure enough, they find the baby whom they had come to honour with their worship and their gifts.

Nor will they play into Herod's sinister plans, for discerning his evil intent, they return home by a different route.

And, of course, Herod, realising he's been outwitted, engages in the brutal slaughter of Bethlehem's infant boys in the event we commemorate today as "the holy innocents", a grim but failed attempt to shore up his own security by killing the promised Messiah.

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History records the lamentable litany of would-be rising stars who aspire to power and then use almost any means possible to hold onto it with an iron grip.

Whether by the crude means of times past, political manipulation or the cutting-edge use of today's technology, despotic rulers perennially poison the wells of human well-being in their blind obsession with perverted power and glory.

But providence has the last say, and such rising stars always finally set.

Not so Jesus.

The last title he claims for himself in scripture is 'I am the bright morning star' (Revelation 22:16) - no setting sun but the dawn of a new creation.

Belfast Telegraph


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