Then King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him...When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.' (Matthew 2:3,16-18)
This is not only an unusual way to start an Advent meditation, but a tragic one too. This story has no part in a Nativity pageant. It is not warm-and-fuzzy because at the hands of a cruel, sadistic king, many innocent boys were put to death. All because he was ticked off. He was threatened and needed to deal with the threat.
It isn't often we put ourselves in the place of someone so obviously evil, so full of fear and rage that he would kill any number of people, innocent and guilty alike. His progeny were not much better: killing John the Baptist, Jesus and James, along with trying and imprisoning Peter and Paul, until the Romans torched Jerusalem in 70 A.D. You could definitely say, in the line of Herod the Great, the apples did not fall far from the tree.
So, why would I want to spend any time thinking of them, other than as a cautionary tale about the evils of the world?
It hit me this morning on the way back from school drop-off why the Lord saw fit to include Herod in the story of His Son: Herod reflects the potential of the human heart.
Even with a renewed mind, a new heart and a re-born spirit in Christ, there is plenty of evil in my heart. Like a residue of oil in the pan, my old self can still rear up. I can act like Herod. I may not wield the power to kill innocents physically, but I do have the power to damage and break down others emotionally and spiritually.
You see, Herod was acting out of fear. His position was unstable, being that Rome was really in control of Judea, and anything, especially a long-ago prophesied Messiah, could destabilize not only his power base, but give Rome an opening to put an end to his kingdom. That's, in fact, why the Sanhedrin dealt the way they did with Jesus, at least the outward reasons they gave for His death. Politics and Power. The new King of the Jews was an enemy from birth to the current King of the Jews, so he had to be done away with.
Surely there are spiritual warfare implications I could write about, but that is truly beyond my ability to expunge today. What I see in Herod is myself. I see the hidden danger of living without love. Without moving and breathing in the Lord, I wouldn't think too much of getting what I want from others, at any cost. I would think wrong is right and pursue what feels good with abandon. What makes me happy is what would concern me, others be damned.
That's not who I am, praise the Lord, but there are many in this world who could agree with Herod's actions. They could justify his behavior and make a darn good case in court for it. He was just trying to stay on top and sometimes that means you have to literally step on others. He was doing what was he thought was right to hold onto the thin cord of hope that he was in control of his destiny.
It is a rare person who would say they have never acted in their best interests out of fear. I can't, flat out. Peter, Paul, Abraham and Moses and every hero of our faith had black marks on their record, even after they knew the Lord personally.
A meditation is supposed to end happily, supposed to leave you feeling good. Maybe this year it isn't for us to feel good about everything because this world has real problems to solve. Maybe it is time we took a good look at our motivations and submit them to the Lord, asking Him for cleansing not just because it is a new year soon and we want to feel good about our resolutions to do better.
Let's make this Advent about living in His love, knowing that without it, we are in for a world of hurt. The world IS a place of hurt, but we know the One who heals that hurt - who came as a baby in that manger, so long ago; hidden from the world until just the right time. A Savior born to save all men - the good and the bad, the free and the slave, the sick and the broken.
Christ has come and He will come again - Gloria in excelsis Deo!