How am I responding to Jesus as the Christmas season approaches? With reverence? With dread? With overwhelm? Indifference? Awe? Joy? Wonder? I want to move toward awe and wonder this season.
This is the first Advent post in a series called “What is my response to Jesus?” It’s intended to be an open-ended question that you are invited to answer for yourself. I like to think of Jesus’s birth as a wonderful drama that slowly unfolds, disrupting our ordinary lives and leaving us in awe of his sovereignty.
Each post will feature one of the cast of characters from the Biblical Christmas story, including Mary, Joseph, the Magi, the Innkeeper, King Herod, and the shepherds. Three questions will be explored. First, what is each character’s response to Jesus’ birth? Secondly, what is my response? Is it similar or different? Third, what can I learn about myself and Jesus through their response and how does that help me draw closer the LORD this season? This is my way of preparing my own heart and mind for Advent and Christmas 2021.
King Herod was part of a great dynasty of Herods who ruled for 33 years, from 37-4 BC under the Roman Empire as King of the Jews. He was schooled in the Greek, Helenistic culture of polytheism. The Gospel of Matthew 2: 1-19 provides the most information. The complexity of this man fascinates me. According to Biblegateway.com, he was, in some ways, a modern-day typical Washington politician. He was a clever negotiator, formed strategic political alliances with the right people, and a master builder of infrastructure. He made many temple improvements. “Herod the Great was called the “Idumean,” which means Edomite, a descendant of Esau. He sought to maintain political power by keeping peace in Judea,” (Bible Study Fellowship). Peace in this worldly context means oppressing the Jews to prevent them from rebelling, not true peace. This is part of the reason why he was in constant fear of conspiracy and trusted no one, which made him a cruel tyrant. Because he worked so hard at securing his position, he was determined to keep it, no matter what the cost.
When Herod is approached by the Magi about this mysterious child who is supposedly the next “king,” he was immediately paranoid. “When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him,” (Matthew 2:3) NIV. The studied men from the East are sincerely seeking the child to worship him, so Herod feigns interest in this quest and asks the entourage to return to him once the child is found. “Then Herod called the Magi and secretly found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him. ” (Matthew 2: 7-8) NIV.
It’s a deceptive plot. Herod intends to have the child killed once he knows the whereabouts. But the Magi do not return to Herod. They are warned in a dream and return to their country by another route. “When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious and 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.” (Matthew 2:16) NIV. He is not about to let any baby boy grow up to dethrone him! Herod doesn’t want any change in the status quo. He intends to stay in control.
I have a lot of Herod in me. I want control too. Yes, I want in charge of my own life. No interruptions please. Too many times, my response to Jesus has also been suspicion, paranoia, rejection.
You see, Herod missed it. He missed the point of God’s plan for Jesus because he was blinded by his desire to stay in power. He missed the purpose of Jesus’ birth because he was so consumed with maintaining control within his sphere of influence.
Sometimes, I miss the point too. The same distractions tangle me up. Jesus came for King Herod. Jesus came for me. Jesus came for all of us. Jesus came to set us free from our sin so that we can live eternally at peace with others in his Kingdom.
Jesus’ presence often did not soothe or comfort most people then, or today. Fear and insecurity is by far the most common response when we don’t understand His purpose. Jesus still upends, stretches and disrupts us. Not because he’s trying to wreak havoc in our lives, but to shake us out of spiritual complacency.
I pray that God can jolt me out of my spiritual blindness within my self-centered world and open my eyes to the gift of Jesus’ birth this season. Jesus came to do what we humans could not do for ourselves. John 3:16 tells us that King Herod’s response is a reminder of my own sin.
Heavenly Father, I confess to you that my response to Jesus’ birth isn’t always what it should be. I more often resent your interruptions rather than ask you to fill me with joy and gratitude. Jesus’ presence is my present that changes everything. As my December commitments and to-do lists threaten to overwhelm me, pour over me your awe and wonder so that I can fill other loved ones with your presence. Help me to see that your presence is not an interruption, but an invitation to a more abundant life. Amen.