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.