Do you know who Baby Yoda is? He is a character on a Star Wars related tv series called The Mandalorian. He’s an infant of the same alien race as Yoda, who was a mentor to Luke Skywalker in the early Star Wars movies. The baby on The Mandalorian is actually named Grogu, and he is being chased by the bad guys in the story, who work for the Evil Empire, who are out to capture him, and dissect him, to learn about, and exploit his powers. Little baby Grogu looks helpless, but carries within him the capacity to harness and use the force, the mystical energy of the universe, and do a lot of good.
He is a special child, whose potential power is a threat to those with vested interests, and who is at the same time vulnerable, and will not survive without kindness and help.
The Mandalorian is a bounty hunter assigned the task of capturing the special child. He broke his contract to protect the child. He wears armour, and carries weapons, but was defenseless when it came to the vulnerable child, who opened his heart, and inspired love.
Much of the story takes place on a desert planet that looks like it could be Israel or Egypt.
It’s easy to see parallels between the wondrous child Grogu, and little baby Jesus, whose earthly protectors were forced to escape to Egypt, after Joseph was warned in a dream the evil King Herod was after the newborn. Joseph and Mary fled with the child, and took refuge in Egypt until the evil king died, and was no longer a threat to the child. Matthew’s Gospel says:
When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
At Harrow United Church during Advent we heard different stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood that did not make it into the New Testament. (non-canonical gospels) These stories were written for particular communities, and were told with details and images that would speak to people in those places.
Scholars believe Matthew wrote for fairly educated, Greek speaking Jews. He drew on images and themes from the Jewish Scriptures that were available to him, in a Greek translation called the Septuaguint, which was prepared for Jews who did not speak or read Hebrew.
When Matthew quoted a line from the book of the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” he was referring to the Hebrew slaves who escaped from Egypt, and were lead by Moses on a journey to a promised land, where they established a new nation. This is the origin story of the nation of Israel. It’s the story of how God reached helped people who were suffering and oppressed in slavery. God was with them as they found new life, out from under the grip of a cruel empire.
Matthew was quite deliberate in connecting that story of resistance, to the story of baby Jesus. Matthew paints a picture of Jesus as Moses for a new generation, sent by God to free the people of Israel, who lived under the oppressive and exploitative rule of the Roman Empire.
Jesus began life as a vulnerable child, and grew up to offer hope and new life, because he had caring and brave protectors who hid him from those who wanted to kill him.
According to his origin story, Moses was born during a time when the King of Egypt, the Pharaoh had commanded all the male children born of the Hebrew slaves were to be killed. The Pharaoh feared the Hebrews were becoming a threat to his power.
The newborn Moses was hidden by his mother for three months. When she could no longer hide him, she coated a papyrus basket with tar and pitch, and set the child floating in the basket, among the reeds along the bank of the Nile river. His big sister was standing at a distance when the daughter of the Pharaoh came to the water to bathe, and found little baby Moses in the basket. She opened the basket, and found a little crying baby, and felt sorry for him.
(Baby Grogu’s hover-pod looks a lot like a basket.)
The Pharaoh’s daughter knew what was supposed to happen to Hebrew baby boys. But her heart opened, and love won out, and she took the little one home, and he grew up to become part of the royal household. She gave him the name Moses, which meant, “drawn up out of the water”.
It’s interesting to think about how Jesus’ public ministry began after he was drawn up out of the waters of the river where he was baptized.
Moses, Jesus, and little baby Yoda. In each story the special child is hunted by the forces of evil, and is saved, and survived because of protectors bound to them by love. The child of promise survives to fulfill their mission, in a world that can be cruel and scary, and in which there are powerful forces of which you must be wary. That’s the story we celebrate at Epiphany.
In Mexico, and many other places influenced by Latin culture, like New Orleans, the King Cake is a big part of the celebration of Epiphany.
A couple of years ago Lexie and I had friends come to our house with a king cake. They are circular, and often decorated in bright coloured sprinkles and icing to make them look like a crown.
Show this slide of King Cake when prompted
The king cake gets its name from the story of the three kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus.
Somewhere inside the cake there is a tiny little baby Jesus, sometimes wearing a tiny little crown. He was hidden in the cake to keep him safe, and if you find him, it’s up to you to carry on the tradition, and at the next Epiphany party, you bring the cake. In some cultures, whoever finds the baby King gets a prize.
In 2021 there was a minor controversy in Mexico. Companies started selling king cakes for the Epiphany season in which they’d hidden, not little baby Jesus, but Grogu, little baby Yoda. Some church officials declared it disrespectful of tradition.
Of course, when that happened, sales of baby Yoda cakes went up. Predictably, some religious conservatives became even more irate. Baby Yoda, who is already quite loveable, found an even bigger place in the hearts of some folks who already felt picked on and looked down on by the same religious conservatives who want to tell you what can be in your party cake.
Baby Yoda cakes became a playful symbol for the LGBTQ community, which was even more annoying to some of the more conservative religious folks. You can imagine that cycle going around and around, like the circle of a king cake.
What appeals to me about this story, is that in the midst of a clash between people who want to keep the upper hand, and those who just want to live their lives, we find the figure of a tiny, vulnerable baby, who has the power to win hearts, and encourage us to love, just by being there. Amen