Summary: Who really cares about us? Not this world’s Herods, for fear lashes out destructively. We find care in those who, like the wise men, believe in us and give gifts for the future; and who, like Joseph, sacrifice for us. Epiphany at National Baptist Memor
Some people have friends. Some people have enemies. Most people have acquaintances. But everybody has people to do business with.
The people you do business with -- usually, that’s not an intimate relationship. It’s a distant relationship, limited to transactions. We deal with people who may not even know our names, but who just do things for because it’s their business.
I go to the grocery store near my home. I see the same faces week after week at the checkout counter. They are polite and I am polite. We say hello to each other and occasionally exchange little comments about the weather. 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. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
However, one day a number of years ago, one of those checkout ladies she stepped out of that business-only role for a moment. I had developed the habit, whenever my wife sent me to the grocery, of picking up one of those sugary fried pies as my “reward” for doing the shopping. Yes, I knew they were not good for me. But I enjoyed them and that was enough. Well, the checkout lady had noticed that habit, and, as she picked up a lemon fried pie to put it into my bag, she said, “You know, don’t you, that these are pure garbage, nothing but sugar and fat!” Wow! Never had anybody in a store tried NOT to sell me something! What was going on? Is it possible she actually cared about me?
Every now and again someone breaks out of that distance thing and tries to be something more. Every now and then someone acts as though he wants to be your friend, wants to care about you. What do you make of it when that happens?
Let’s try again. The phone rings, and the caller 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 has called me “Joseph” since I was a little boy, and it usually meant that I was in trouble! So to this caller I mumble, “Uh-huh.” “Uh-huh” means “I am not telling you anything, who are you, and get on with it.” So 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 business. They want to make money from me. Is it at all possible that they care about me?
There are a lot of folks out there who may sound as though they care. But do they? Do they really care? How will 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 Jesus. Can we figure out who had just a selfish interest in Him, and who really cared about Him? And would that give us a clue about finding out who really cares about us?
First, there is King Herod. King Herod expressed interest in Jesus. It sounds pretty authentic. When the wise men 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 that that wasn’t the king’s intention at all. He had no plan whatsoever to climb down from his throne and lay his crown at the feet of some squalling peasant infant. In one of history’s most awesome atrocities -- 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 little town of Bethlehem. Massive overkill; ruthless, heartless, senseless carnage, masked by the pretense of 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.”