Just in case you are worried when I talk about the discordant note of Christmas, I don’t mean I have been out Carol Singing. Right at the moment the Christmas story will be getting retold countless times across the UK, in nativity plays, school assemblies, carol services and numerous other events. A lot of those events will focus on the reaction of people to Jesus, Mary’s obedience to being his mother, the Shepherd’s wonder, the Magi’s worship etc etc. All well and good but there is one reaction to Jesus that plays a prominent part in the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel which we rarely hear talk about at Christmas. We can over hear it in this short but well known incident
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “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.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, Matthew 2
Herod’s reaction when he heard about Jesus’ birth wasn’t to break open the treasury to find an appropriately expensive gift to give, he certainly didn’t fall on his knees in worship either. Instead we are told he was “troubled” there are shades of meaning to that word, he was “afraid, anxious, worried, upset,” you get the picture. Herod was many things, a ruthless tyrant, a great builder of monuments, a puppet of the Romans, the one thing he wasn’t was stupid. Herod was upset and troubled by the news of Jesus birth because he rightly perceived Jesus as being a threat to his rule. Herod had hypersensitivity when it came to threats to his throne, he had clawed his up to power and was going to make sure no one endangered that power. So over the course of his reign he ruthlessly killed two sons, several wives and a father in law, all of whom he had suspected were in some way a danger to him. It comes as no great surprise then that he ordered genocide among the children of Bethlehem when he discovered where this potentially troubling child had been born.
As I said Herod was ruthless, cruel but certainly not stupid. Herod realised that if Jesus was who he was claimed to be, the Messiah, then he was a threat, a very potent threat to his power and rule. Herod, eventually when Jesus grew up, was proven to be right and all too many people found they too were troubled by Jesus when they discovered he was a threat to their power, to their right in some sense to rule. The Pharisees found Jesus to be a threat to their control of the religious scene in Judea. The Sadducees found Jesus a threat to their right to run the Temple. Pilate and the Romans ultimately found Jesus to be a threat to their right to rule Judea and the Jews.
Old Herod may have been ruthless but he was certainly right about Jesus, he still is. . Jesus is always a threat to those who cherish their right to rule, those who want to run things their way, for their benefit. The Bible makes astonishing claims for the baby who looked so helpless when he was lying in the manager. Ultimately, it says that one day, either voluntarily or not, everyone, and that includes you and I by the way, will confess that that baby is Lord and has the right to rule over us. There will be a day when we will all acknowledge that He, not we, have the right to rule over everything, including our own lives.
Dr Kalas, my preaching prof from Asbury Seminary said very perceptively in a sermon, “We’re all people who want to be king or queen. Some of us don’t get a very large throne, but we make the most of it. We start in our crib, from which we scream out our orders, and we generally keep at it, as much as society and good taste will allow, until we’re on our deathbed. We like being king or queen. …. Here, then, is a Christmas word for you and for me. If your name is Herod (and everyone’s name is) then be afraid. Because the King has come, and He is going to win. This little babe, in swaddling clothes, is going to win. Brothers and sister, boys and girls, its time to get off the throne, and to give the throne to the only one who is eternally qualified to reign.”
What I want to suggest to you if you have never seen Jesus as a threat, if He has never disturbed you with His claims, if He has never made you afraid by claiming that if you are ruling your own life you are sitting in His throne, then you have never encountered the real Jesus. Its said that Peter Pan is the boy that never grows up, well I suspect many of us try and keep Jesus as the baby who never grows older. We like Jesus as the cute, helpless baby of the Christmas story, we can cope with him as long as he stays “away in the manger.” We, for very good reasons, are less keen on Jesus the man, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus who is Lord, who calls on us to follow him and make him our Lord, who says we have to be willing to give up everything to be his disciple. If you are stilling claiming the right to rule your own life, this Christmas, be afraid, be very afraid, that is not a helpless babe lying in a bed of straw but a dangerous threat to your independence. Now that really is a discordant note to listen to this Christmas.