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CHRISTMAS: Herod, Joseph, you & me

NASHVILLE (BP) — Jerusalem was in a panic.

As Matthew recounts in the Gospels: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him….” (Matthew 2:1-3).

There was a reason why the whole city went into panic: Herod was displeased, for he was insanely suspicious.

If anyone was suspected to be a rival to his power, that person was eliminated. Herold had killed many members of the Sanhedrin when he came to power. Later he slaughtered 300 court officers. He murdered his wife and her mother. He assassinated his oldest son and two others. The Roman Emperor Augustus said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son. When it came time for him to die later, he ordered that the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested on trumped up charges and imprisoned, and that the moment he died, they were to be executed. He was determined that someone would be crying when he died, even if not for him.

Now come these three dignitaries from the east.

Herod was secure to the west; that’s where the support of Rome was. But in the east, there were enemies. In fact, Herod had spent the better part of his first years in power building fortress-palaces along the eastern border of the country to repel any attack which might someday come. And here, into his palace, come three high ranking officials from the suspicious east asking about a baby that was born who they were calling the king of the Jews.

All in all, this was a recipe for disaster at the hands of an insecure ruler, who soon ordered the massacre of all boys age 2 and under in and around Bethlehem.

Consider this: Herod was around 70 years old at this time, and yet was so drunk on his need for power and control that he was willing to commit genocide because of one baby based on an obscure prophecy from a religion that he himself did not even believe in.

Such is the way when one’s very core is threatened; they will go to great lengths to make sure that what they have is protected.

But there is a foil in this Christmas story for Herod.

In contrast to this threatened king is a regular guy. An uneducated tradesman with no apparent aspirations or dreams. It’s a man who married under questionable circumstances and became a father to an unknown child. It’s the one who protected his wife and child, moving away from family into the pagan land of Egypt, then to the sticks out in Nazareth. This is the man who sacrificed his livelihood, his reputation, his career — everything — and then simply drifts out of the pages of history.

Here is Joseph, the sacrificial father, standing humbly in contrast to the threatened king. The regular guy versus the powerful dignitary. The ordinary man versus the person of privilege.

Yet these two men had something in common, and it’s that they both recognized at some level the response required to this meager baby born in a humble stable.

And that response entails our very lives.

Every hope, dream, ambition — all must be brought to this new king and laid at his feet in faith. For some, that’s just too much. But then there are others who find, even sometimes to their own surprise, their willingness to do so.

The question for us, then, is whether we will fall in line with the threatened king who clung so desperately to all he had built for himself or the sacrificial father who lost Himself in the greatness of Jesus.

    About the Author

  • Michael Kelley