A Christmas Meditation

“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.”

I collect nativity sets from around the world. When my wife and I go to a new country, I look for a nativity set made by local artists out of material readily available in the area. Currently we have at least sixteen nativities from North and South America, Europe and Asia. Unfortunately, every one of my nativity sets is missing one important character from the story. I’ve been trying for years for years to find a nativity that includes this shadowy character. Many of them include an angel, but none of them include the angel’s archrival: King Herod.

Herod never actually shows up in Bethlehem. But his shadowy figure is clearly present, behind the scenes, waiting for his opportunity to pounce. Matthew tells of his demonic plot. He makes it his mission to kill Jesus. Every boy child in Bethlehem under the age of two becomes collateral damage in his sinister scheme. Their mothers’ grief was inconsolable.

The name Herod means “Ode of the Hero.” The angel’s song is clearly audible. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). But there is another song being sung at Christmas. A deeply disturbing song. Herod’s song. the Ode of the Hero. John tells this same story in the Book of Revelation, but the character of Herod is replaced by a dragon.

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Nothing’s changed since Matthew and John wrote this story. Herod’s slimy presence can still be found at Christmas, seeking to destroy the hope brought by the child in the manger. He still wants to replace the song peace sung by the angels with his narcissistic ode extoling violence and destruction. Have you seen or heard Herod this Christmas? He’s there, lurking in the shadows.

I heard him singing clearly and unashamedly on Christmas night. My wife and I were driving home from a wonderful Christmas celebration with our family, listening to sacred carols on our local Christian radio station. A commercial interrupts the music, advertising a “Concealed Weapons Class” at a local gun shop beginning January. A concealed weapons class advertised on Christian radio. On Christmas. On the birthday of the Prince of Peace. The Ode of the Hero being sung between “O Holy Night” and “Do You Hear What I Hear.” The angel’s song included that wonderful verse: “Said the king to the people everywhere, ‘Listen to what I say: Pray for peace, people everywhere.” The Ode of the Hero’s song included the verse: “Make sure you have a concealed weapon permit.” Both songs were playing on Christmas night, 2021.

Herod, the Hero, and his desire to destroy the true Savior can be seen in the Christmas cards of Representative Thomas Massie from Kentucky and Representative Lauren Boebert from Colorado. Both representatives chose to have their families photographed in front of a Christmas tree holding guns. Both cards came out the week following the Oxford school shooting in Michigan that took the lives of four students and injured six more students as well as one teacher. “Merry Christmas” Massie tweeted. “PS: Santa please bring the ammo.” He’s singing the Ode of the Hero. Meanwhile the grief of mothers in Oxford, Michigan is inconsolable.
Christmas offers us a choice. We can embrace the humble King in a manger or the violent king who slaughtered Bethlehem’s children. We can sing the song of the angels or Ode of the Hero. We can’t do both. Which one will we choose?

As you make your choice, I invite you to read the rest of John’s account. He clearly tells us that we are currently fighting a battle with the dragon. The rest of his book tells us that the Child wins the victory over the dragon.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb.