Bible Study, Christmas Advent, Faith, Spiritual Encouragement, Stories from Scripture, Uncategorized
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The Advent Fulfilled: Looking Closely At King Herod’s Blood-Stained Hands

Christmas devotions are spent in the living room, sprawled on the floor and snuggling on couches. The soft, twinkling lights on the tree cast magic into the room and we tell the story, again, of the appearance of the angel to Mary, of the travels to to Bethlehem, of the night the canopy of sky rolled back and the glory of heaven appeared and angels sang. But the day King Herod ordered the slaughter of Bethlehem boys… well, that sounds like the record was ripped from the player and the needle scratches and we sit stunned by the grotesque.

060905-150614 Detail from the Tapestry 'The Slaughter of the Innocents'

the warp and weft of the threads paint a scene of suffering.

And every year my kids are aghast at the horror of that king’s actions and we talk about what history tells us about Herod the Great, King of the Jews under Caesar. Ultimately, the question comes: why didn’t God stop him from killing babies?

Maybe Herod’s atrocities don’t show up in your Christmas devotions or your advent readings. Maybe the story of Herod ends when the Magi exit the scene and Joseph takes his little family to find sanctuary for a time in Egypt. That would be verse 15 of Matthew chapter 2.

“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. In accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 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 2:16-18}

Two short verses are easily lost, or glossed over, in the the glitter and magic of the story of the birth of Jesus.

Some historians even believe that it never happened, since the record of this infanticide is only found in Matthew’s account. And even though the Bible has been proven over and over to be an historically accurate historical reference, it’s easy to discount, because, after all, it supports the “myth” of a Creator God who caused all matter to exist in just six days.

But if you consider yourself a Christian, and you worship Jesus as God, and you celebrate the deep meaning of Christmas beyond the “Peace on earth” mantra of our day, then maybe you should talk about Bloody Bethlehem, too.

According to historical record, Herod the Great, was a tool.

— He kept kosher, never slaughtering or eating a pig, yet he ordered his own son to be murdered simply because he didn’t trust him.

— He built a temple for the Jews to centralize their worship in the city of Jerusalem (oh, the tourist revenues!) but placed a golden eagle above the gate, clearly breaking God’s command against graven images and even more clearly paying homage to Rome, who chose the eagle as their symbol of power.

— He ordered all the notable Jews to be rounded up and await certain execution in the Jericho hippodrome just before his own death because he was, obviously, paranoid and mentally unstable.

(for more, google him or read here)

Herod over and again played the dual role of king of the Jews and Roman pawn. His was a loyalty divided and divided again, until he had little motivation to his actions save self-preservation (and that of his future chosen heirs).

Perhaps he heard rumors that Rome was less that impressed with his ability to govern and that they were already looking for a replacement ruling family to reign over the little Judean kingdom. Perhaps he was mentally unstable, ill to the point of madness (I personally think he behaved as one with advanced syphilis), perhaps he was just a really, awful guy.

Can’t God intervene and stop a madman? Why did he preserve His son, but ordered the death of so many innocent sons in the region of Bethlehem?

This is the line of questioning that comes from my kids every year as we cram devotions in between wish-lists and candy-filled advent calendars, shopping and parties and gift exchanges.

And, always, it comes down to this: Why does God let bad things happen?

If He’s so great and powerful, if He’s omniscient and wise, if He’s good. If He is Love. Then why?

Oh, it is easy to pick this portion of scripture and decide to wait until later, until they’re older. Give them magic and Santa and baby Jesus and gently mooing cattle and Mary serene.

But, if we face the ugly, we find the beautiful and holy. Every. Single. Time. If we face the truth that God in his wisdom allows free will, human choice , suffering and death, injustice and inequality, we will see, beyond the veil of our experience lies the truth, like a gem:

We do this ugly.

We do it every time we choose our own comfort, our own agenda, our own fear over the betterment of others. We have all acted badly out of fear or selfishness or anger. Do we take it to the extent that Herod did? Or Hitler? Or the slave traffickers or the pimps? Could I be responsible for the ethnic slaughter in eastern Europe or Rwanda? Could I single-handedly cause something akin to the apartheid? No…and yes.

Jesus spoke with Nicodemus in the dark cover of night, The world was condemned already:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

This is the verdict. Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come int the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” {John 3:16-21}

Oh Christian! Oh celebrator of Christmas! Look at the Slaughter of Innocents with eyes illumined with truth! Gaze into the ugly to see the beauty of the promise of Jesus Christ! Embrace the Light of the world and believe that He is just, that He never acts on his own self-preservation. God gave us light! He has given us a way to weigh the actions and the hearts of mankind, yes, even our own hearts. And He has given us CHOICE.

Live by the truth and come into the Light so that all can see what has been done through God. Give yourself the lens of clarity and share it with others. Look into ugly to see that the name of God’s one and only son means SALVATION!

We can’t see it well enough if we only think upon angels and shepherds and a baby in a manger. We need to mourn for the loss of those babies, for the loss of the babies who die in the name of fear every day, for the old men who live life according to their own wills and cower in fear when they face death, for the girls who are devalued and sold again and again to men who slaughter their innocence.

This is why we tell the whole truth to our children: that they may choose Light. Because Jesus is their only hope:

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” {Matthew 11:28-30}

And we hang a nail on the tree. And we remember, and hope and wait.

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