New Year’s Eve in El Paso

The Story We Wish Wasn’t There 


A good reason to follow the lectionary is that it forces us to hear passages of scripture we would rather avoid. This is one of those Sundays!

The gospel reading includes Matthew’s gruesome story of Herod’s order to slaughter all the boys under two years old in Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:16-18) Leon Cognate captured the horror in Scène du massacre des Innocents  (“Scene of the Massacre of the Innocents”).

Who Was Herod?

Herod was a pathologically insecure narcissist who was obsessively driven by his fear of any threat to his position and power. (The Anchor Bible Dictionary , Vol. 3, p. 169)

No wonder he was “troubled” when the magi came looking for a newborn king.  The more troubled he was the more troubling he became. It was instinctive behavior for Herod to lie in order to hold onto power. “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” (Matthew 2:8)

Holy Migrants 

Joseph hardly needed an angel to tell him to get out of there! (Mathew 2:13) We found this carving of the Holy Family escaping to Egypt in a shop behind St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Durban, South Africa.


The artist makes his living by carving religious figures from discarded lumber and broken tree trunks. It portrays the reality of migrant families who flee from violence and oppression then and today.

Why Herod? 

Why does Matthew give Herod a leading role in the birth story in his gospel?

Matthew was a hard core realist. The former tax collector knew about financial corruption and political power. He drew a stark contrast between the kingdoms of this world ruled by the likes of Herod and Pilate vs the Kingdom of God reveled in Jesus. His gospel calls us to live that Kingdom-shaped life right now and to hold every political leader and system accountable to the biblical vision of social justice.

After disrupting our New Year’s football games with this painful story, Matthew gives a word of hope when he records, After King Herod died…” (Matthew 2:19) Like every autocratic ruler, Herod “struts and frets his hour upon the stage /And then is heard no more.”  (Macbeth, Act V)  And when Herod was gone, Jesus was back! (Matthew 2:19-23) Herod couldn’t get rid of him and neither can we!

Jesus At the Border

Any preacher can find good reasons to find another text! But the headlines from the southern border and pictures in the news won’t allow us to escape it.

There’s no sign that Congress will come to agreemen on a workable immigration process any time soon. Presidential candidates will continue to turn the migrants into political pawns

But if we take the Old Testament prophets and the words of Jesus seriously, migrants seeking asylum are not primarily an issue; they are people. The beginning point for we who claim to be Christian is to see the Holy Family somewhere among the families who are sleeping on the streets of El Paso; to find the baby Jesus among the children who are being loading in buses carrying them across the country.

Living into Matthew’s story won’t solve all the issues around immigration, but it may change our hearts. Perhaps it will help us find a way to carve something beautiful out of discarded people and broken lives.

Grace, peace and hope for the New Year!


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9 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve in El Paso

  1. Jim


    div>Thanks! Have a gre


    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you Jim.

  4. As usual, Rev. Harnish, you have hit the the application of the text right on the head. Can’t wait to hear our Pastor Connie’s sermon tomorrow. Your remarks about Matthew made me wonder if you have seen THE CHOSEN? As a former teacher, I found its interpretation of Matthew as “on the spectrum” so interesting! Always love your messages here and love sharing them with friends.

    1. Thanks. I’ve not seen The Chosen but hear good things about it.

  5. rolandpeterrink January 1, 2023 — 2:52 am

    Thank you Moruti!

    New year blessings to you and the family



  6. Carleen Boyer here. One word, Jim: WOW!

  7. It is incredibly easy and painless to sit in our cozy homes in Florida, and talk about the tragedies at the border, like the families sleeping on the streets of El Paso and all along the southern border. Because it doesn’t affect us. Our communities aren’t struggling to cope with an open border and a broken immigration system. Where is the compassion for our citizens living along that border? Or for the Border Patrol agents, thanklessly trying to stem the chaos? Or for all of the parents who have lost children to to the fentanyl pouring across the border? Or all of the women and children who are being trafficked across the border? Where, Jim? When the USA actually followed our established LEGAL immigration system, we were still able to welcome asylum seekers to our country in an organized and safe manner. No longer, thanks to the incompetence of the current administration.

  8. You have left me in tears again. Thank you!

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