I know - it's not yet Epiphany - but sometimes all things flow together. We had our St Barnabas Christmas Pageant yesterday - 40 children and 160 onlookers and stage managers. The hall was bursting at the seams.
The setting was of a story of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. [adapted from Gunhild Sehlin's book "Mary's Little Donkey"] The three wise men were three robbers. Angels and birds mixed their dancing metaphors. Joseph and Mary visited the shepherds on their way. (All accompanied by excerpts from J. S. Bach.)
The contrast between lush Nazareth and dry Bethlehem - between Galilee and Judea - between Israel and Judah - seemed to me to suggest geography and politics in this tale. Also striking was the repentance of the three robbers. The gifts were different from the traditional and obvious sense, but here gold could mean economic power through theft, frankincense could be priestly power through collusion, and myrrh could be mortal power through force and violence.
A pageant by children and later with this background - (not mentioned in the pageant, but heard by me in a new way while singing in the evening service of the nine lessons and carols at the neighboring parish of St John the Divine) - with this backdrop of pageant fresh in my mind, I heard that "Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him".
Jerusalem, the Place of the Name, the Place of the Holy, the heavenly bride - troubled? You better believe it.
Because of the current readings in the Isaiah reading group, I hope to post an analysis of Isaiah 2 in Hebrew and Greek. I haven't started it yet, but the ancient languages are not required to examine the circles in the text - and this is what is surrounded by them, (verses 12-16), even in an 'old' translation:
Yes, this will be the day of Yahweh Sabaoth
against all pride and arrogance
against all that is great, to bring it down
against all the cedars of Lebanon
against all the oaks of Bashan
against all the high mountains
and all the soaring hills
against all the lofty towers
and all the sheer walls
against all the ships of Tarshish
and all things of price
Repetition in the text does not indicate a 'chorus' but rather it is a marker that what is surrounded is the significant message.
Then note how these verses above refer back to the pride of Jacob, a land full of soothsayers, sorcerers, silver and gold and treasures beyond counting, horses and chariots without number, his land full of idols. They bow down before the work of their hands... (verses 6-8). Do you see the three gifts here?
Why is Jerusalem (never mind Herod - he's just the symbolic figurehead) - why is all Jerusalem troubled at news of the arrival of their king, at the sight of the terror of Yahweh, at the brilliance of his majesty (verses 10 and 21)? [There are two significant concentric circles in this passage 9-10 and 18-21, surrounding 11 and 17.]
Because Jerusalem (New York, London, Ottawa, Moscow, Melbourne, Pretoria, Rio) - all that is desirable - all that desires - is complicit in using the gifts of economy, priesthood, and war on their own behalf, and for their own protection, and not for the care of the poor, the hapless, the marginalized, the afflicted and the exploited. Read the psalms.
Jerusalem is not alone in this - either in Isaiah's day, nor in Luke's day. This is what is meant by idolatry. Pure and simple - it is injustice.
Is it only Yahweh who can judge the world with equity (Psalm 67 among others)? Is it not the children of God who must judge rightly (Psalm 82:2)? Yahweh asks these beni Elohim, Until when will you judge with injustice?
Until when, O Lord, עַד־מָתַי (Isaiah 6:11) - you know the answer...