I am discontent with missing the point of Christmas.
I was less than enthused with the introduction, “Christmas is so special,” that Bishop Richard Wilke wrote. “His birth must be celebrated with celestial joy and reverential awe. Our faith demands that we focus on the birth of our lord Jesus at Christmas.”
Of course it does. Sigh.
Sounds like the start of every other Advent study. Ho hum.
Have we become so dulled by the extravagance of Christmas that simply announcing that Christmas is special no longer makes Christmas special? Boy, do we need a wake-up call!
Then Wilke’s first chapter title opened my eyes. “Let’s keep Herod in Christmas.”
Richard Wilke’s wonderful little Advent study book, “Christmas: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly,” starts with the end of the Christmas story. “When King Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.” (Matthew 2:16).
In all the bathrobe Christmas pageants I’ve seen, I have seen every character. In addition to Mary and Joseph and the babe, I’ve often seen shepherds kneeling, angels singing, and wise men arriving. I’ve seen innkeepers and housemaids. I’ve seen animals in cute costumes who having singing parts. I’ve even seen Martin Luther and St. Nicholas. But I’ve NEVER seen King Herod.
Can you imagine the children at rehearsals? “I want to be Mary.” “I want to be Gabriel.” “I hope I get to be a wise man.” “I sure hope I get picked to be the evil King Herod who killed all those babies!!???” Yeah, right.
While we may choose to ignore him, the truth is that King Herod may actually be the reason for the season!
Although he practiced Judaism as an Edomite, he was not considered Jewish by the ruling class. But Herod was eventually elected “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate, captured Jerusalem with Roman help, and became king of all Judea.
Historians note that Herod the Great was great not because he was a great man. Herod was great because he was a great builder, much of it can still be seen today. Among other amazing structures, Herod built the spectacular port city of Caesarea Maritima (named after the Roman Emperor) and the rocky top fortress of Masada and the amazing hilltop fortress of Herodium (guess who this is named for?). But he is most well known for rebuilding and expanding the Temple (which was eventually torn down in 70A.D.)
Given all that, Herod was tyrannical, ruthless, brutal…evil. He connived, lied, and manipulated his way to get ahead. He strived for more and more control, wealth, power, influence. He murdered anyone who could have contested his throne—even children. He became suspicious and jealous. He executed his wife and other family members. He killed political and religious leaders and replaced them with his men. He reigned in fear and covered it up with brutality. It was into this climate that wise men from the east came and made the mistake of asking Herod, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” No wonder Herod became paranoid and ordered what historians have called, “The Massacre of the Innoncents.”
We like to think of evil as something “out there,” something “others do,” something intentional…personified as the terrorist, dictator, tempter, enemy, or even Satan…somehow releasing ourselves of any personal responsibility. While this world may be full of crime, brutality, hate, lust, deception, greed and God knows what else, what we often ignore is the evil that resides in our own hearts, sometimes barely undercover. There are things in our lives we want no one to know about, lies we tell others (and ourselves), deceit fills our taxes or computers or time, brokenness haunts our families. The hurt and pain we experience in this world may or not be the intentional act of an ‘enemy,’ but it is all the result of our brokenness. We are broken and live in a broken world that we can’t fix on our own. No matter how good we try to be, we can never be good enough. If we are honest with ourselves, and look deeply in the mirror, we will always see a reflection of Herod in us. And, if we are completely honest with our place in the human race, we may see more than a reflection.
It is into this kind of world that God so loved us that he sent a Savior. Emmanuel. God with us. This may not be world worthy of the coming of a King, but a King came anyway. We may forget that this world–that you and I–that we needed a Savior. We still need a Savior. Herod is the reminder of what we need to be saved from…and most of the time…we need to be saved from ourselves.
So this Christmas, don’t allow the 24-7 Christmas radio stations, the Christmas trees, the stockings, the overdone yard art, the lights, the parties, the gifts, the traffic, the meals, the tinsel, the mistletoe, the Christmas shows, and all the rest to cover–up your need for a Savior. Remember to keep Herod in Christmas. God certainly did….and he sent a Savior anyway.
Now that is a reason to celebrate Christmas!