Let’s Place Herod Back in Christmas


Tonight, as component of my annual vacation tradition, I watched the 1983 film, The Most effective Christmas Pageant Ever, for the umpteenth time. This film, primarily based on the book by Barbara Robinson, explores the story of a group of poor young children who hear the Christmas story for the initially time when they choose to take component in a church Christmas pageant. There is a lot about this story worth speaking about – the classism and judgmental superiority of getting shocked by poverty and its consequences, or the quite depiction of the Herdmans, written to make suburban white readers in the 1970s gasp and shake their heads in dismay, but which youngsters these days hardly bat an eye at mainly because it really is so familiar. But I am not going to speak about that. I am going to speak about some thing the Herdmans noticed when they heard the story of the nativity for the initially time: exactly where is Herod?

In the book, the Herdmans are truly captivated by the function Herod plays in the Christmas story, attempting to manipulate the Magi into revealing Jesus’ place so he can murder the kid. In reality, in the book, they are so interested in Herod that they finish up going to the library and carrying out analysis on the notorious life and reign of Herod the Excellent. They commence to strategy a sequel to the Christmas pageant in which the Smart Guys and Joseph get revenge on Herod, substantially to the dismay of the narrator’s brother Charlie, who fears they are going to make him play Herod so they can beat him up.

It is sort of clear why we do not generally see Herod in the Christmas story. We do not want to complicate the pure, sacred narrative with this subplot of murder and intrigue, correct? The image of the nativity creche is not fairly as picturesque when you add a paranoid king slaughtering young children in the periphery.

And however, Matthew spends a considerable portion of his nativity account focusing on Herod. And in reality, from each a narrative and a theological standpoint, Herod is important to the story of Christmas.

A handful of of my pals have written excellent items this season about the Magnificat, the song Mary sings when she visits her cousin Elizabeth even though they are each miraculously pregnant. In it, Mary praises God for overturning the energy structures that have kept men and women like her oppressed and downtrodden, celebrating the revolutionary new kingdom that God will usher in with the birth of God’s Son – of her son. This, my pals have emphasized, is the great news of Christmas: the guarantee of liberation for the oppressed by God’s conquering the oppressor.

What are these energy structures? Who is the oppressor in the nativity story? Effectively at this point in time, it really is Rome, of course, the occupying pagan government. But apart from Augustus ordering a census that sets the events of the story in motion, Rome is fairly absent from the narrative we study in the gospels. Rather, we see Herod as the story’s antagonist. Herod was a puppet ruler, subservient to Rome. The story of his rise to energy is as convoluted and complete of intrigue as is Octavian’s – complete of assassination plots, strategic marriages, and political maneuvering. Herod represents energy at its worst, energy that exists for no other goal than to boost, and which will quit at practically nothing to retain itself.

Herod became the tetrarch of a little chunk of Palestine known as Judea. The complete area of Palestine appears to have been perennially problematic, frequently at war with whoever was occupying it at any offered time (this was 1 of the factors it was broken into separate jurisdictions beneath Roman rule). Herod’s job, presumably, was to preserve the Judeans from revolting against Rome – in other words, to retain “law and order.” Herod was Jewish (ish) himself, and he went to some good lengths to construct great PR with his province by rebuilding and expanding the temple in Jerusalem. It was Roman policy to let conquered peoples the correct to practice their religious and cultural traditions. So truly, all Herod had to do was to retain the status quo.

It is into this circumstance that Mary proclaims:

“He has shown strength with his arm
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted these of humble estate
he has filled the hungry with great items,
and the wealthy he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53 ESV)

This describes a comprehensive overturning of the status quo. Mary’s song depicts God aggressively – dare I say, violently – tearing down current energy structures in order to lift up the humble and lowly. God is, in quick, a revolutionary, the quite opposite of what Herod represents.

In some cases I assume we error peace for the status quo. In particular for these of us whose lives are fairly great, who are neither poor nor oppressed, it really is straightforward to assume that “peace” merely implies “the continuation of items as they are, with out any interruption to myself.” That is absolutely what peace meant for Herod. And however, as Mary’s song indicates, the arrival of Jesus – the Prince of Peace – represents a direct threat to Herod and to every thing he stands for. Herod likely did not care if Jesus truly was the promised Messiah it was sufficient for him that he may possibly be noticed as a Messiah, a figure for men and women to rally about and assistance more than himself. Recall, as the instrument of Rome, Herod’s energy depended on maintaining the Judeans in line, and the Judeans had a habit of increasing up about charismatic leaders and revolting against the powers that be. Herod’s job safety depended on practically nothing altering in Judea – politically, economically, socially, or theologically – so this rumor required to be squashed. And so Jesus had to die.

For these like Mary who do truly reside in poverty, hunger, or oppression, peace implies the opposite of the status quo. It implies an finish to items as they are so they can be as they ought to be. It implies bringing down the men and women in energy – not to place new men and women in energy, but to replace the whole structure of energy. Peace needs radical, absolute, irrevocable transform, transform that threatens the wealthy and the strong and the comfy.

This year, let’s place Herod back in Christmas. Let’s keep in mind that there are men and women and forces in the globe to whom Jesus is a threat, and who will do something they can, frequently in the quite name of “peace,” to avoid him from enacting his radical agenda. But Jesus did not come into the globe so items could remain as they are he came to turn the globe upside-down. He came to bring correct peace, the sort of peace Herod feared but Mary longed for. Let’s take a really hard appear at the structures of energy in our globe that preserve several men and women perpetually locked in powerlessness, in poverty, in hunger, in danger, in worry, in want – and let’s enter into the function of Christ, which is to undo these structures. Let’s be prepared to danger losing the comfort that comes with preserving our present way of life, in order to usher in the reign of peace foretold by Mary so lengthy ago.

Merry Christmas, all.


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