Saturday, December 31, 2016

Putting Herod on Notice

Matthew 2:13-23                                          
Christmas 1
January 1, 2017
William G. Carter

I’ve been slow in getting out some Christmas cards. But here is a brief note that I included in a card that will go out tomorrow morning.

Merry Christmas, King Herod!

I may be the first to ever send you such greetings, and I do so with the best of intentions. This is our festive holiday, a twelve-day season marked by bright lights, happy gatherings, and glad songs. The Christian church pulls out all the stops to celebrate the birth of our new king, Jesus. And we know that this is an event that confuses you.

It confuses a lot of people. We get that. Some folks decorate their homes with generous splashes of red and green, and they eat too much, and drink too much, and spend too much, and generally wear themselves out.  But among the Christians, there is a simplicity and joy to the merry-making. The Christians are generous in giving gifts to loved ones and friends. They make large donations to support their churches and the charities that extend the works of God. They make every effort to worship together and to tell people how much they are loved.

So in that spirit, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

No doubt you knew it was coming. The strange Persians who studied the stars found their way to the castle door. You welcomed them and inquired of their journey. You called in the Bible experts to ask where the Messiah would be born. Then you sent along the Persians to locate the child and notify you of his location.

But that’s where it all seemed to go badly. Although they did not know of your, shall we say, unfavorable reputation, for some reason they did not trust you. And then, as has happened so many times before, you fell off your throne in a jealous rage. You really didn’t need to send out your murderous soldiers, especially to the children of Bethlehem. Violence is always the strategy of a fallen empire. Prophets like Jeremiah have been telling us that for centuries.

Nevertheless, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Clearly you do not comprehend this new king. He rules with his words, as you do. But he does so differently. You speak an order and expect it to happen immediately. He speaks the truth and waits on us to respond in obedience. You punish and destroy the person who disobeys you, but his fierceness is revealed in his grace.

You declare orders like, “Find that child and destroy the threat to my throne.” He says, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

You say, “Annex that region and add it to my dominion.” He says, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)

Everybody knows he is a different sort of king that you’ve ever known. He is the king that we have always wanted. So again I say, “Merry Christmas, King Herod.”

It is a Merry Christmas because the sovereignty of the new king Jesus is shown in his love. Love is the power at the heart of the universe, the glue that holds everything together. Love is the magnetism that binds people in relationships, and consoles them when relationships are torn apart. Love is the propulsion that sends us to serve those in need, and it comes from Jesus, the new king. He is the One who reveals that heaven loves earth.

King Herod, I’m sure that somewhere within your dark soul, that notion of love is as appealing to you as it is for every person. You’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places. You have been married ten times, and never happily. You’ve also pinched a few others on the side. Your marriage to Mariamne was a particularly bad idea, but it was an even worse idea to murder her and her son. No wonder her mother declared you were mentally unfit to serve as the king.

I have to believe, King Herod, that your family reunions were also terrible disasters. It wouldn’t have helped that you eliminated at least three of your sons whom you suspected of sedition. Even Caesar Augustus up in Rome made fun of you, stating, “It would be safer to be Herod’s pig than to be his own child.” So there’s no way that I’m going to tell my congregation to look up your household records in the historical archives. I tried to do that and got very confused.

So I have to wish you a Merry Christmas. It’s our prophetic word to you, offering an alternative to how life has gone for you. Your family life, like your political life, is a sad account of human wreckage. You represent every despicable despot who has slithered up from the dregs of human history. Thanks to you, we are not surprised whenever we see the depths of sin and the damage it can cause. And we are reminded of the kind of world where God has sent the Christ child.

Merry Christmas, King Herod. Your days are numbered. At this point in your life, you are a weathered old man, nearly seventy years old, but looking a whole lot worse. Your physical health has not been good. Psychologists in our own day have diagnosed you with mental health issues, including profound narcissism, paranoia, violent tendencies, and chronic depression.

Of course, you’ve told yourself how successful you are, that you are “the greatest builder in Israel’s history,” and there is some truth to that. A lot of the tourist sites in Israel are places that you built. You have built yourself a big tomb about three miles from Bethlehem. But you have some serious issues, sir. In your last will and testament, you command that important people be brought to your funeral and then slaughtered, so that there would be some authentic grieving at your passing. Fortunately your survivors will not honor those wishes.

And here’s the truth: when you die, which you shall certainly do soon, you shall stand before the New King, the very One that you tried to eliminate. You will have to make an account of horrible, destructive things that you have done throughout your life: every person you have plundered, every life you destroyed, every act of greed and violence that you committed. Maybe for the first time you will discover that you could have lived a different way.

Merry Christmas, King Herod. The Christian church is delighted to announce to the world that the future does not belong to you. It does not belong to boorish, self-indulgent kings who would claw their way to the top. The future does not belong to obnoxious despots who take credit for everything and take responsibility for nothing.  

No, the future belongs to the new king Jesus. The world has always belonged to him, but it must wake up from its dark nightmare and affirm that we live by his truth and grace. Some of us have already stirred from our sleep. As the New Year begins, we will try to live by the dawn of a brand new day.

So Merry Christmas, King Herod. Your time is running out and you will be forgotten. Nobody needs your cruelty. Nobody enjoys your violent temper. Nobody wants a king who is in the game only for himself. We will take Jesus, thank you very much. We will love him with our minds, guard him in our hearts, and follow him in his steps, because there really is no other way to be completely alive.

Merry Christmas. 

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

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