When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi.
If there is any character in the birth story of Jesus that is totally unredeemable, it’s Herod. King Herod (also known as Herod the Great or Herod the Wicked) makes a decision that seems over the top by today’s view of politics. He hears a rumor about a child who will become “King of the Jews,” gets scared about a coup, and then decides it’s in his best interest to commit mass infantacide to deal with the perceived problem. Historically, Herod is well-known for his paranoia and vengeful, bloody reign over what was left of the people of Israel at the time of Jesus’s birth. Crowned by the Roman Senate as the “King of the Jews” in 40 BC, Herod’s position was tenuous at best. He was a king without a kingdom, mostly because even though he ruled the Jewish people, they were all still subjects of the Roman Empire.
Traditionally, Herod is a huge part of the story of Jesus’s birth and subsequent move from Bethlehem. He never comes to see Jesus, like the shepherds or the magi. Although he takes a deceptive and, ultimately, violent stand against this baby who was supposed to become the King of the Jews, it is clear that this approach is not from a position of strength, but rather, a position of fear. Why would he fear a tiny child who only might possibly take the title he enjoys? His fear is rooted in insecurity, not just political insecurity but personal insecurity. He needs his position in the Roman government to validate himself. He needs to be validated in order to find self-worth. His fear is ill-founded but he has no idea because he’s afraid of anything or anyone who poses a threat. As much as none of us wants to be aligned with a man who is more than willing to kill small children to protect his political power, we need to be willing to admit that often our own choices and own protective measures come from a similar point of fear. We miss the chance to be a part of something amazing or world changing because we would rather sit in our palace and plan a way to make sure we are safe. We damage the very things that could help us in an attempt to stay safe. Herod is a sad character. For all his effort to protect his power, he ends up dying a few years later with a legacy of fear and loathing in his wake. During this season, it’s easy to get caught up in fears about our families or circle of friends. We may pull away or complain that the season is over-commercialized or demanding. If we do those things, if we decide that being unhappy about the season is the best solution, we will miss the message of the season. The message that tells us to engage, reach out, and embrace the miraculous and the wondrous.
- - -
Help us seek you this Christmas season. Help out reach out and embrace your love instead of fearfully staying inside. Amen.
Jessica is a writer, an English instructor at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, Georgia, and a burgeoning karaoke singer. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional Writing at Kennesaw State University. Her journey as a follower of Christ is ongoing. Her children are both adults, and she is having all sorts of new adventures that she couldn't have when her kids were young. She currently resides in a small 60s ranch style house in Cobb County, Georgia, and hopes to one day have a sponsor so that she can spend her days as a writer and possible karaoke singing beach bum. She's sure God laughs about this hope daily. She can be followed on Tumblr.