December 19th: King Herod

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HerodWhen Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him Matthew 2:3

King Herod was probably about 70 years old when the Magi visited him. A puppet of the Roman government, he lived in a fortress and palace called ‘Herodium’ that he had built for himself out of his great wealth. Lying in plain view of Bethlehem, this was one of his most prominent military centers which offered him protection from the aggressive tax revolts that were often frequent around the time of registration. We are told that this powerful king was troubled by the news of a star that heralded the birth of the king of the Jews. Why, we might ask, would someone at the end of his life (he died a few years later), who had enjoyed all the comforts that this world had to offer, be concerned about the birth of a baby who one day might be king?

Even though some think that Herod was a practicing Jew himself, it seems the he was troubled by the thought that the legacy he had built in his strong allegiance with Rome would be undermined by this new arrival. In contrast to Mary, who was troubled by the news of a Saviour because of her humility and feeling of unworthiness, Herod was troubled out of his sense of wounded pride. His thirst for power and control, which would extend even beyond this life and make his name immortal, was so great that it would lead to the massacre of hundreds of male children under the age of two in his attempt to stop what God was doing. He was desperate that his entire life’s work would not be compromised by this baby.

It is easy for us to make Herod into a sort of pantomime villain in the Christmas story- in a story involving so many wonderful, God-fearing people, he is the one person who just doesn’t seem to get it. However, what is even more chilling is that Matthew tells us that it wasn’t just Herod who was troubled, but ‘all Jerusalem with him’. This is not the first rejection that Jesus would encounter among his own people; it is a reoccurring theme in his life and death (John 1:11). Herod and all Jerusalem with him are a reminder that there are many who miss the good news of Christ’s birth, and who fear and reject God in favor of holding on to their own way of doing things.

Lord, help us to relinquish power and control over our own lives and surrender them to you, acknowledging that your ways are always better than ours. May we never stand in defiance of your plans because they interrupt or compromise our own, but instead may we be willing to lay our own plans down for the sake of joining you in yours. Amen.

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December 16th: Bethlehem

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BethlehemAnd you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. Matthew 2:6

The fact that Bethlehem was the place of Jesus’ birth is corroborated not only by Matthew and Luke’s gospels but also by other historical sources, such as those from the Jewish Christian community of Palestine. It has been debated whether the exact location was a cave or a house, but early tradition is unanimous that somewhere in the little town of Bethlehem, this momentous event in world history took place.

Although Bethlehem was known as the ‘city of David’ because it was the location of the birth of this great king of Israel, it was also a small and pretty inconsequential place, so that the people of the town may well have considered it the ‘least among the rulers of Judah’. In Joshua 15:33-60 it is considered of such little importance that it is omitted from the extensive list of Judah’s towns. What the focus on Bethlehem highlights most of all to me is that places, any place no matter how small, are important to God. Here was God doing such a great work in sending a shepherd for His people that we personally might question whether it really mattered where it happened. On the contrary it was so important to God that He gave a prophesy about it long before it took place and this little town that served as the birthplace of Christ became not only one of the most substantiated historical facts in the Christmas story, but also a place of acclaim throughout the world.

However short or long your time in a particular place might be, never think that it is inconsequential to God. Acts 17:26 reminds us that He has determined allotted periods and the boundaries of our dwelling places. I have been astounded by God’s purposes for me in the places where I have lived; sometimes seemingly random events that have led me to make somewhere my home have brought me to places of healing, growth and work for the kingdom and put me in the path of some of the most influential people in my life. The settings for His activity in our lives are always carefully and meticulously chosen.

Lord, we praise you that out of Bethlehem you sent a ruler to shepherd your people and that there is nowhere too small or unimportant that you can’t make amazing things happen in that place. As we think about the places where we spend our time, our homes and our workplaces, we ask that you would show to us your purpose for us in each one of them and we thank you for all that you have planned in advance. Amen.