I look back on it every year around this time. And I can’t help but wonder – was it our fault? Did we start it? We’d been on that road all that time. Carefully following the charts, cutting a new path, drawing on Balaam’s ancient prophecy. And what did we do? Fall at the last hurdle. We were looking for a good king so we went to see a bad king instead. Some might say we weren’t to know, couldn’t have imagined the fallout from that visit. But we can’t deny what happened.
We weren’t there afterwards, didn’t hear the screams or smell the blood. We were just told. Stopped by a gasping, wild-eyed messenger as we journeyed back, I remember clambering off my camel, twisting my ankle as I fell, and being sick in the road. The other two, bantering happily a second before about the new king, turned and stared back at Bethlehem, their mouths twisted and hanging open like gashed windows. No one spoke for quite a while. Eventually we rode on in silence. Herod had worn a mask of mock wonder when we visited him, swore blind he wanted to worship this new king. Promised on his mother that he would go if we just popped back and let him know the whereabouts.
We didn’t pop back and we didn’t tell him, and he didn’t go. But he sent troops instead. And the troops brought a death wish. A killing curse. And when they’d finished children lay stone-still in the streets. The future of Bethlehem cut down. The babies’ crying replaced with that of their mothers. So I wonder – what would have happened if we hadn’t dropped by on the palace? If we’d stayed away from the sick, paranoid king. Would he have heard another way? Would he have perpetrated slaughter anyway? I’ll never know, but I think on it each year around this time. I remember the wonder, bubbling up like water from a new well, the holy tension as we knelt beside that vulnerable child in the dust. And then the growing horror as we journeyed home and heard that news.
That was three decades ago now, but the memory lingers, like an open wound. My travelling companions died a while back, but I have heard it said that the Bethlehem baby has grown up – the one boy not cut down that night. There are tales about him being extraordinary. And something is nudging me to saddle up again and pay him a visit. Perhaps there’ll be some kind of healing for me in doing that… kneeling down to worship him one more time… I wonder what he feels about the innocent dying in someone else’s place? I may well go.
(by Dave Hopwood and Sam Hargreaves)