In Matthew 2, we have the story of Jesus birth, the Christmas story. We’ve read it. We’ve heard it read. We’ve seen cartoons on TV about it. We’ve seen little kids dressed in bathrobes act part of it out. We know the story.
But there are characters in the story we don’t tend to pay much attention to. Some of them seem to just be there as extra’s, placeholders waiting their turn on stage for a few minutes, only to fade out of the way when they roll the baby in the manger front and center. There is more to these people than that, though. For one, they were real humans, who lived a real day to day life, who encountered this baby in a quick, one time shot fashion. Secondly, God put them in the story in the Bible for a reason. He has something for us to see and learn from them. Herod is one of those characters.
Herod was raised to be the king. He had been king for three and a half decades by the time Jesus comes on the scene. Don’t forget, people in his day often didn’t live to see 50. He had been king for 35 years. He was an effective, but cruel king. He did his job, and did it well. He was just hated. He knew how to be king, and how to hold onto the power. He had effectively arranged his life in such a way that he could control almost all of it. It was good to be king.
But he was terrified of losing it all. He had his sons murdered so they could not take the throne from him. He had anyone who was a threat executed. He ruled with an iron fist. So, into this story roll three wealthy and powerful visitors from the far East. They come in, packing gifts, bodyguards, and an entourage, looking for the king. Not for Herod. For another king.
Stop and think for a minute how this had to sit with Herod. Consider the fear, the feelings, the worry that had to sit in. He checks with his own “wise men” and they tell him that “yes, a baby king is predicted to be born in Bethlehem”. Now Herod has a choice. He can ignore this new king on the scene, and grab for power, maintaining his control. Or he can concede that this thing is bigger than him, and follow the visitors to worship and turn over the kingdom to this new ruler. But make no mistake, to re-orient his life around this little baby in a manger is going to cost him something.
We are Herod today. It’s Christmas, and behind all of the lights, parties, songs, bows, wrapping, shopping, and dinners is a quiet king, born as a little baby boy, come to wreck havoc on the system. He has arrrived, and declared His royalty and His intention to rule. We are faced with Herod’s choice, some 2000 years later. Will we ignore this new king, carrying on with a shallow, false religion; or will we bow before the new ruler and give control over to Him? It is a legitimate question. What will we do?
Herod decided to kill the king off. He killed all of the boys two years old and under in the area to make sure it worked. Whenever we decide to do away with the rightful king, others suffer. When we choose to live life on our own terms, and ignore what Christ is calling us to, other people get sucked in and pay for our horrible decisions.
But what about when we bow before Him, and follow His lead? Then Christmas becomes Christmas. We come so close with what we do. We take the story of the wise men’s gifts, and run with it, justifying all we do this month. But it was not their expensive gifts that made them wise. It was their bent knees. The same is true for us. A bent knee brings the things the angels talk about at Christmas: hope, joy, peace, goodwill.
A bent knee makes a Merry Christmas.
Where do you and I need to bow before the king, right now, today? What part of our lives is living by Herod’s rules? I’d love to hear your thoughts.