NASHVILLE — For most of us, the holiday season is filled with anticipation and joy. We tend to forget the sense of dread and doom that accompanied the events surrounding Christ's birth.
"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, '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.' When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him" (Matthew 2:1-3).
The visit of the wise men plays a significant role in the story of Jesus' birth. Though the Magi didn't grasp the full implication of their visit or the prophetic nature of their gifts, they were some of the first to recognize the significance of the child born in Bethlehem. And announcing their intentions to Herod signaled a season of uproar, fear and anxiety throughout the kingdom.
Threats from an earthly king
There was a reason the whole city went into panic when Herod was displeased. Herod was insanely suspicious. If he suspected anyone of being a rival to his power, he eliminated that person. He'd killed many members of the Sanhedrin when he came to power. Later, he slaughtered 300 court officers. He murdered his wife and her mother. He assassinated his oldest son and two others. The Roman Emperor Augustus said it was safer to be Herod's pig than his son.
Herod found himself taking an audience with ambassadors from the east where he had enemies. These dignitaries told tales of a baby who would be a king. This was a recipe for disaster, and all of Jerusalem held its collective breath to see how Herod would respond.
His response was strategic. When news reached him, he summoned the chief priests and scribes -- experts in the law and Scripture -- to find out where the anointed one of God would be born. The men put their heads together and quoted prophecy from the Book of Micah that led to the small town of Bethlehem.
With a location, Herod put a devious plan into motion. His first option would be to learn the exact location of the child, then do away with Him as he'd done away with so many others. But in case that didn't work, he formulated a backup plan in which he would order that all male children born from the time the star appeared in that region of the country be put to death. Many would die, but he'd surely get the one death he really cared about.
Say what you will about Herod -- he was selfish, greedy, power-hungry and cruel -- but we must acknowledge this: He understood, better than most of us, the far-reaching and threatening implications of this child.
Promises from the Prince of Peace
We don't often consider the threatening nature of Christ's coming. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and the bright and morning star, but He's also an incredibly dangerous threat. We live in a time where the things of God are so prolific, so easily ascertained and so numerous that we easily fall into a state of religious bookending. Christianity, in that respect, is something that bookends our weeks. We go to Bible study. We pray. But that isn't the message of Christ.
Christ came to be our lives, not a part of our lives. He came to indwell us in such a way that our entire worldview is re-centered on Him. He came to infiltrate the smallest corners of who we are so that He's actually living His life through us.
Jesus is still a threat. He still demands absolute centrality and that we give up our own story in order to more fully tell His. But it's more than a threat -- it's a call to participate in something eternally meaningful and significant. It's an offer for us to find our importance in terms of our relationship to Him rather than our own accomplishments.
We can choose to accept the threat to our story and find something bigger, or we can choose to eliminate the threat by clinging to our vision of what our lives should be.
Michael Kelley is executive editor of HomeLife.