Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” (NLT)
One of my memories of an earlier Christmas was the opportunity I had to play Herod in a church play. It gave me ample legitimate outlet for raging and shouting. I could vent my spleen in a good cause! All good stories have their heroes and villains. Herod is a classic villain. He casts a dark shadow over the delightful story of the birth of Jesus. If a good guy has come on the scene, the bad guy is there to remind him just what sort of scene it is.
Herod stands for all who don’t want to let Jesus direct their life. He may have been especially wicked, but essentially he is an ordinary sinner who can’t tolerate anyone telling him what to do. He saw that if this baby grew up he would start challenging him and he would no longer be king of the castle.
Right from the outset, Jesus provoked opposition. Something a baby by itself can never do. But babies grow up. So it is that in past times, infants in royal families could be imprisoned or murdered because they posed an intolerable threat to others bent on power.
Baby Jesus grew up to claim the authority to rule each and every individual. Baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby to be admired and cuddled. He grew up to invite our allegiance and our devotion. He grew up to bring about the possibility of reconciliation with God. Baby Jesus was born to die.