Making Christmas Special . . . With Herod
Matthew 2:13–23 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
Simon and Garfunkle recorded a powerful statement in 1966 - more than a song. It was on an album, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,” called the 7 O Clock News/Silent Night. It begins as beautiful duo singing Silent Night. Then you begin to hear something else. It gets louder and louder. Like a gnat buzzing in your ear until you swat it - you realize it is a newscast. This you hear of the escalation of US involvement in Vietnam. Poverty. Racial unrest. Riots. Homelessness. Drug overdoses. Serial killers, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Nixon. By the end, Silent night is overwhelmed by the real world’s troubles.
Making Special Christmas -
As Christians we often complain about the commercialization of Christmas. We complain about taking “Christ out of Christmas.” We complain about the secularization of Christmas. Keep Norman Rockwell in Xmas or keep Charles Dickens in Xmas. Consumerisation of Xmas, the pace of life in a mobile world with big box stores and endless ways to spend more than you make. On the other hand we may fall into the saccharine sweetness of a plastic celebration of sentimentality instead of a Savior’s birth. Our text above teaches that we are not celebrating the Incarnation of the Son of God into a world with no Fall, with no sin, with no death and into which there were no enemies. We should remember that Christmas is not an escape from the real world.
Accepting Actual Christmas - In our text (Matt. 2) we have the reality of both Christmas and conflict. We have the Incarnation and damnation, salvation and slaughter, birth and death, a humble King and a proud corrupt king.
NOTES ON HEROD’S LIFE
Herod the Great arose from a wealthy, influential Idumaean family, (the Idumaean = the Edomite of the Bible, who settled in Idumea, also known as Edom, in southern Judea.) He was not a Jew in the classic sense, but his family was probably forcibly converted to Judaism in the decade 130s BC by the Maccabean John Hyrkanus.
Herod was the 2nd son of Antipater the Idumaean and his wife Cypros, an Arab princess from Petra, Jordan. The family rubbed shoulders with the greats in Rome, such as Pompey, Cassius, and in 47 BC his father was appointed governor over Judea, who then appointed his son governor of Galilee at the age of 25.
Macrobius (c. 395-423), who writes in his Saturnalia:
"When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered to kill, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod's pig, than his son."
As we read we see the nativity, mother Mary, righteous Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the star, the Magi – and yes also Herod, slaughtering children as an act of greed and self-protective power. That is the actual Christmas, the reality, not the Holiday Special. Herod was at the first Christmas. Evil filled the world of Jesus’ birth. Herod’s intentions were very wicked. The grim reality is that Herod only killed thousands. We could find in our own lifetimes many men who have killed many more to guard their thrones. But because of the Incarnation, all despots, all evil rulers who will not kneel at the Manger will perish.
Believing in Christmas - The humble circumstances of the birth of the King and the meek manner of His Kingdom’s unfolding tempt some not to believe in the transformation power of the Kingdom first manifest in a Manger. But Jesus came to us and though He was rich, He became poor that we might be rich with God. If you are rich with God, may your heart mirror His in your giving and joy. As we rejoice in the Prince of Peace, may we in the coming year be mindful of a world still in conflict and world that is not free from sin, misery and death. Yet the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus has surely come. May we more and more recognize the presence of the Incarnation of Christ and the transforming power of His incarnational Kingdom. That power is evident in both salvation and damnation. As Matthew KJV 2:19 says, “But when Herod was dead.” That is an Epiphany that foretells the fate of all Kingdom enemies as well as the rescue of His people.
Could someone retort, “But when Jesus was dead” - he lay in the tomb and was raised to life on the third day.