Christmas Through the Eyes of Herod (11am)
I want to start off by telling you a story. It’s a story I know really well and, actually, is probably one of my favorite stories of all time. It’s a story about an older man. An older man who had goals and dreams. Dreams to lead and hold a position of power and authority. A position where he could really accomplish something. This goal, however, would take time and energy. A lot of time and energy. It would take a lot of careful and meticulous planning. He would have to be careful.
You see, the system in place around him wasn’t working. In reality, he saw nothing but chaos. There was no clear leadership in place and so everything was bogged down and hindered by a failing and antiquated political system that did more for its officials than it did for the actual people. In addition, a fanatical religious group had wormed its way into the infrastructure of not only the political realm but really every aspect of life. This group held to ideals that fostered the failing systems in place and only perpetuated the cycle of chaos and lethargy that was contributing to the destruction of society.
And so, this one man worked tirelessly and diligently at the slow crawl up the political ladder. He fostered beneficial relationships of both a professional and personal nature that would assist him in his goals. In fact, he found he was required to keep his private life out of his political endeavors. If others knew what he was working toward they might recoil at the necessary changes he sought to implement and so he continued his crusade but in privacy and in the public forum. He was always polite, especially those whom he disagreed with. Even when it came to the fanatical religious group he loathed so much, he practiced nothing but courtesy and decency.
Throughout his political journey he would even bring leaders from this movement into his private deliberation sessions so as to give them the illusion their voice was valued. He wanted to see lasting, final change and he knew that couldn’t be accomplished by outright alienation of those already in leadership. And then one day, it happened. He assumed the role he had sought for so long. As he expected, those in that religious order challenged him and fought him from the beginning but it was a short struggle. Fortunately, he had placed several measures to help with the transition that would come and while there was more violence than he probably had initially hoped for – the day was won and a new beginning came to all. One marked by order and measured by efficiency. And after years and years of careful, deliberate planning he could now see his vision come to pass. It would be short-lived, relatively. A rag-tag, destitute collection of idealists from the former regime rallied together and began a guerilla crusade against the new system and leadership. Raids, attacks, secret infiltrations…they were relentless.
They were little more than a nuisance until they recruited some sorry, orphaned farm boy from the middle of nowhere. That young man had potential but he got brainwashed by political radicals and even indoctrinated into that fanatical religious system the older man thought he had abolished. The arrival of this young man seemed to be considered a miracle for the squalid, ramshackle of a rebellion but for this older man, that farm boy proved to be the end of everything he had worked for. Costly terrorist attacks, immeasurably expensive destruction of resources and facilities, that little rabble-rouser even turned the older man’s #1 officer against him.
And ultimately, that older man…the one who worked so hard and so long to create a structure of order for everyone…would be killed because of the actions of that miscreant farm boy from a backwater region that people went out of their way to avoid. If you’ve put two and two together, you may know the story I’m talking about. It’s actually the story of Star Wars – my all-time favorite movie franchise. But I told the story from a different perspective. You just heard the story from the perspective of the villain, Emperor Palpatine. That fanatical religious group was the Jedi Order. The ragtag group of terrorists was the Rebel Alliance.
The trusted #1 officer who turned against him? Darth Vader. And that miscreant orphan was none other than Luke Skywalker. We started our Advent series last week and set the precedent that something unique happens when we look at something through the eyes of another. That’s true in great stories, like Star Wars. The whole tale takes a completely different turn when you see it through the eyes of the Emperor. And the same thing actually happened in the Christmas story. But instead of a black robed Emperor we encounter King Herod. His story is a small one within the Christmas story but one we can’t afford to miss.
We find him in Matthew 2:1-20. Let’s read. *Matthew 2:1-20. This is about as familiar a story as we can recall from Scripture. I’m willing to bet many of you probably heard it when you were children and maybe even have read it to your own children. We hear about the star in the sky. We see the wisemen and their gifts. There are even angels. It tells a part of a story told by every nativity scene we see in this season. But the figure always missing is that of Herod. And while his presence in the nativity might not be missed, we do miss out if we gloss over his role in the story. In addition, we miss a significant message about Christ’s birth. Herod was a king with power and influence. He was not born of Jewish descent and yet had established his rule firmly.
Likewise, he was also well-known in the ancient world for his massive building projects. Walls, fortresses, even temples. Herod was a significant leader but he is also known in history for having a massively bad temper, violent disposition, and for being extremely anxious and on edge. He didn’t receive challenges of this authority well and so his reaction in this account isn’t all that confusing. Verse three tells us that when he heard the news of Christ’s birth that he was disturbed. The Greek word here is actually the same word used in Matthew 14 when the disciples are terrified seeing Jesus walk on the water and they think he’s a ghost. This word denotes anxiety, fear, and nervousness of the unknown. Herod is afraid and worried about losing everything he’d gathered and become.
He’s worried he’ll be replaced. And fear, as we know, can make the worst of humanity even worse. And that’s what happens. What began with fear, becomes deceit. He lies to the magi and feigns a desire to honor the child king. And in that deceit, was the desire to murder an innocent newborn. God intervenes and sends angels to tell both the magi and our new little family to avoid Herod at all costs because he desires to kill the baby. Herod realizes that he’s been found out and so his anxiety-driven fear turns to bloodlust when he issues a decree to kill all the boys around Bethlehem who are two or younger. It is said that in the haste and barbaric execution of this order that some of Herod’s own sons were killed. But the Christ-child was safe. And then Herod died. It’s probably not hard to understand why this part of the story rarely makes into the Christmas specials and child stories we tell around the holiday.
It’s not exactly the material for a figurine set or Christmas coloring book. But in this sad, tragic tale of Herod is a lesson we need to know about Christmas: It should change things. When Christ was born, a vicious and selfish dictator saw the end of his rule coming. Even more, verse three tells us all Jerusalem was troubled. This likely means the leadership, both political and religious. Systems that were corrupt and filled with injustice were being challenged and fought. They were going to be removed. The power of that truth is that this should take place in our own hearts and lives as well. Last week I shared in my sermon that I believe Christmas can become little more than a ho-hum change of pace. But if Herod’s story teaches us anything, it’s that broken and selfish and destructive systems should be challenged and brought down with the arrival of Christ. One of my all-time favorite lines from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia takes place in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe. Susan and Lucy are speaking with Mr. Beaver when Mr. Beaver tells them about Aslan, the Christ-figure of the story.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” Christ is not safe. And when we tell ourselves that He is Jesus becomes little more powerful than the small statue we have in front of this altar. This is the danger of becoming enraptured with the infant Jesus. If we forget or ignore who and what He grew into and accomplished than we really know nothing of Christ. In the Advent study we are starting today, one of our authors offers an important reminder: “Jesus is dangerous to the forces of darkness because he came to usher in a new era when sin would lose its grip on humanity and death would no longer have the last word.”
So, my challenge to you is this: What habits or rhythms or patterns in your life should be shaken up or removed this Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Christ? What systems or structures are you running or operating within your own life that have trouble making room for Christ? It might be the way you spend your money. Or your private time. It could entail relationships in your life. In your home. Where you work. Or relationships that you know shouldn’t be there or ones that are in desperate need of forgiveness and reconciliation. Greed, pride, lust, envy…all of these are kingdoms that should be disturbed by the arrival of Christ just as Herod was.
Instead of rearranging our furniture to fit a tree and our schedules to fit in all the visits and events we have coming up, maybe we should think about what it is in our own hearts that needs to be moved around or even removed in order to make space for Christ both this Christmas and in our lives as a whole. When we consider that and begin that work, then we are seeing Christmas through the eyes of Herod.