Herod (A Sermon)

King HerodMatthew 2: 16-18 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

In the quiet of these moments let us imagine we are in a lavish royal palace interviewing King Herod. I suspect this royal despot would begin the conversation with an appeal for our empathy, with something like, “It’s not easy being king. You have no idea the demands of this office. I carry the burden of law and order on my shoulders. And believe me, I get very little help or appreciation from anyone else.”

I suspect if we pushed this oriental monarch for details, he would go on, “If shepherds want security, they had better co-operate, because there can be no safety if everyone pursues their own dreams. If wise men want truth, they had better accept my authority, because it is better to be a stupid fool than a dead wise man. And if God wants to remain silent, citizens had better obey the government, so they don’t lose everything for which we have worked so hard.

If we ended by asking Herod for what he most wants to be remembered, I can picture him pausing to reflect as if he had never thought of this. Then I suspect he would feign humility while responding, “I think more than anything, I would like to be remembered as the Prince of Peace.”

That might come as a jolt to Christians who place their hopes for peace on the Christ Child. However, recent political developments should remind us Herod’s fears are still with us. All of us are afraid Christ’s way might mean the end to some of our privileges.

At Christmas, God speaks, “I love the Herod in you. Lay down your cares, lay down your fears, lay down your most precious assumptions, and lay down every one of your weapons. Deny yourself and follow me. Lose your life in me and you shall find it.”

Part of the Herod in us responds, “Yes, yes. This is he who brings order from chaos. Peace is giving ourselves to this Christ”. However, another part cries out, “No, no. I shall not give up what I have. Never! To surrender to this love is to give up too much”.

Matthew defines the consequences of Herod’s fear in two terse sentences. His way kills innocent children causing mothers to scream, refusing to be comforted, because they will never again hold their children.

At Christmas time, we proclaim God comes to rescue us from the Herods, out there and within us. Christ’s peace carries us beyond our deep-set obsession with survival, but it also brings profound challenges and great demands. Christ reveals hidden thoughts, incites great joys, and provokes deep fears. And so as we give thanks to God for this Christmas gift, we also pray with great trembling, “Cast out our sins. Enter in. Be born again. Be born in us today.”

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