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Following Jesus

Dethroning Herod

December 17, 2018 by

Painting of Herod by James Tissot
Herod by James Tissot

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright tells about a Christmas service where he was preaching. A well-known historian, famous for his skepticism towards Christianity, approached him. “I've finally worked out why people like Christmas,” he declared. “A baby threatens no one. So the whole thing is a happy event which means nothing at all!”

Anyone who bothers to read the Gospels, however, knows that the first Christmas was not exactly a happy event. Before the Prince of Peace could even walk or talk, he was a homeless refugee with a price on his head. Jesus’ birth was anything but a postcard image. This child was a threat. The tiny town of Bethlehem was not just the inauspicious place where God’s son quietly entered the world, but the turf on which Herod’s soldiers would slaughter babies and toddlers just to ensure that Herod’s throne remained secure.

The miracle of Christmas is not just that God became man but how God’s humility both threatens and defies the “Herods” of this world – not just kings and presidents, but anyone who clings to power and privilege at the expense of love.

A lot of people are like Herod. People like you and me, who refuse to allow anything or anyone to interfere with our domain, our ambition, our sphere of influence, our prerogative to run the show. Our kingdoms may not be as big or as impressive as Herod's, but each of us stake out claims to what is ours and what we want. A lot of lives are ruined in the process.

If we’re honest, there is something of Herod in each of us: We resist “God with us,” for we know that means the end of our egos and our quest for personal advantage.

This hit home to me very personally one Christmas break during college. I got a temporary job as a cashier in a small general pharmacy in Berkeley, CA. I was allotted only sixteen hours a week. The other cashiers and employees seemed like obvious losers to me – college dropouts or middle-aged ladies who exhibited no ambition or initiative. I could work faster than they could and was able to keep the customer line moving. Whenever there was a lull, I’d tidy the aisles and shelves, while my co-workers just gossiped with one another.

At the end of the week the manager called me into his office. I walked in, pretty certain he was planning to reward me for my work ethic. I told him I wanted more hours, which I knew meant that he would have to adjust the schedules of the others.

He reminded me that not only was I a temporary worker but also that he had employees with children who needed to make ends meet.

I shot back and explained how efficient I was.

“Yes,” he admitted. “But you’re also short $253.00. Maybe you can shed a bit of light on that?”

“What?” I was speechless. I just looked at him and stammered.

My manager had watched the video tapes of that week and noticed that in my haste I didn’t always operate the cash register properly. This explained the shortfall.

“By the way, it’s Christmas” he said, as I left his office.

Indeed it was! My ego, that part of Herod in me, that which sought to dominate, to climb to the top and stay there, that vied for prominence and personal profit even at the expense of others was smashed to smithereens. 

May we rediscover the miracle of being humbled and of bowing down before the Lord of love. This alone is the secret to a happy Christmas.

Historians believe that as the events around Christ’s birth were taking place, Herod was suffering from a painful terminal disease. He had become so paranoid about holding onto power that just five days before he died, he had yet another one of his sons executed, believing he was vying for the throne. How absurd! Herod desperately trying to hold on to something he was about to lose anyways.

This is what we must all realize. How many of obsess over being in control, of configuring our lives in such a way that we stay strong and get ahead? How many of us forget that, “The government shall be upon His shoulders,” as the prophet Isaiah writes. Our kingdoms must come to an end so that His kingdom can break in. This is the good news! When the Herod inside us and among us is dethroned, Christmas happens all over again.

Christ’s greatness was revealed within the confines of a manger. Unless we are ready to move in the same downward direction, unless we welcome Christ as the lowly Lord of our life, the legacy of Herod will stubbornly remain and wreak havoc on the earth.

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many,” Simeon announced to Mary. In our lives, which one will it be? May it be that we rediscover the miracle of being humbled and of bowing down, bowing low, before the Lord of love. This alone is the secret to a happy Christmas.


About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore resides with his wife and daughter in Esopus, New York where he teaches Bible and Christian Thought at The...

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