It is very easy to shun, or walk away from, our shadows. Those parts of us that we are resistant to recognise, let alone embrace. Within each of us there are unresolved parts, areas of disquiet and suspicion, which feel like something ‘other.’
When these parts of us are more prominent than the sense we have of our true selves, our bodies and minds can become unhappy places to be.
The birth narrative found in Matthew’s gospel presents us with the Shadow King. Nervous about maintaining his own power and authority, even amongst his own flesh and blood, Herod becomes the anti-hero in the story by not only seeking to subvert the Jesus story before it truly began, but by bringing the lives of innocent children to an end. For what? Blatant self-preservation.
Funnily enough, we don’t tend to let this part of the story slip into the nativity plays in churches and schools, but we keep to the happily ever after. There is, however, something powerful in this. The story simply declares that God sides with vulnerable powerlessness rather than immature and insecure power structures and individuals. But let us not de-personalise this story to one of simply ‘rulers and authorities.’
My inner ‘Shadow King’ competes, criticises, judges, plots and seeks to devour anything that challenges my sense of privilege or superiority. The more I fight him off, the more virulent and persistent he becomes. The journey to freedom lies in inviting him to the table, and to gently question his fears and troubles. We can be sidetracked from this task by fear of our darker sides, but we mustn’t. We must remember that to embrace our darkness is the beginning of light’s influence, and of healing. Understanding our fears enables us to hear them, recognise them and yet, choose a different path by being able to see an alternative way, beyond fear, into hope.
Herod stands in these ‘cosy’ and ‘tamed’ stories reminding us what happens when we don’t transform our darkness…we transmit it! In the Advent wait for the coming King of Kings, remember that our Shadow King or Queen awaits his coming with suspicion. But remember this:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matt 12: 18 – 21)
We have everything to gain when the Messiah comes to us. He comes with healing, wholeness, and redemption.