Summary: Who really cares about you? Not those who, like Herod, are so scared they will do anything to save themselves. Rather those like the wise men, who give gifts for the future, or like Joseph, who make sacrifices for your protection. For Epiphany.
Some people have friends. Some people have enemies. Some people have acquaintances. But everybody has somebody you do business with.
The people you do business with -- usually, that’s not an intimate relationship. It’s a distant relationship, limited just to transactions. Everybody deals with people who may or may not even know our names, but who just do things for us, just play roles.
I go to the grocery store near my home. I see the same faces month after month at the checkout line. They are polite and I am polite. We say hello to each other and occasionally exchange little comments about the weather and the price of things. But I don’t attempt to have what you would call a close relationship with these folks. They are checkers and baggers and I am a customer, and that’s that. I don’t ask them to care about me any more than the job requires, and they don’t ask me to care about them beyond paying the bill and waiting patiently while they put it all in those little plastic sacks. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
But every now and again something happens with one of these casual business encounters. Every now and again someone appears to break out of that distant thing and asks to be something more. Every now and then someone acts as though he or she wants to be your friend, he wants to do something special for you, he wants to care about you.
The phone rings, and it’s a telemarketer. He starts off as though he is your dearest long-lost friend. “Hey, Joseph, how are you doing? I hope you had a great holiday!” Now right away I am suspicious, because nobody but telemarketers and Jean White ever call me “Joseph”. So I use my all-purpose answer: “uh-huh.” “Uh-huh” means “I am not telling you anything, who are you, and get on with it.” And then it comes, “I want to do you a favor. I want to save you some money.” “You can trade in your Visa card for one with lower interest.” “We can give you replacement windows for 50% off.” And the real topper: “Our driveway repair crew is on your street today.” These folks act as though they want to be my friends, they make noises as if they care about me, but I know that the bottom line is the bottom line. They want to make money from me.
And there isn’t anything wrong with that. Not at all. I’m sort of with Calvin Coolidge, who said “The business of America is business.” That’s OK. But it’s not about friendship. It’s not about caring for me. It’s about business, right?
There are a lot of folks out there who may from time to time sound as though they care about us. But do they? Do they really care? How will you know, how will you find out who really cares? Most of us are thirsty for real care. We’d like to know that someone really cares about what happens to us. How do you find out who really cares?
The wonderfully rich story of the infant Jesus and those who surrounded him not long after His birth gives us some clues. A number of folks expressed interest in Him. Can we figure out who had just a passing, selfish interest in Him, and who really cared about Him?
First, there is King Herod. King Herod expressed interest in Jesus. It sounds pretty authentic. When the wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, asking at the palace where the new king would be born, the old king, taken by surprise, sent them off with a command, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” He sounds like he cares.
But of course you and I know from what happened next that that wasn’t the king’s intention at all. He had no intention whatsoever of climbing down from his throne and laying his crown at the feet of some squalling peasant infant. In one of history’s most awesome holocausts -- sadly, neither the first nor the last of its kind -- King Herod sent out a decree to destroy every child of two years or less in and around the village of Bethlehem. This massive overkill, this ruthless, heartless trick, this senseless carnage, masked by his pretense at friendship, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
You see, not everyone who pretends to care for you actually does care for you. Not everyone who makes all the right noises is going to help you. What’s going on here? Why this pretense at caring, but in reality this destructive heart? Here is the clue, right in the text: “When King Herod heard [about the birth of the child Jesus] he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” He was frightened and all Jerusalem with him.