Within Us: Christ or Herod?
Saturday night, a week ago, while we were celebrating Christmas, Jesus was
born in Bethlehem. We know now, thanks to John (1:14), that baby, Jesus, was God – “the Word made flesh”, the “only Son, who came from the Father”. The shepherds and the wise men didn’t know that Jesus was God, but the wise men worshiped him as “messiah” (Matthew 2:4); the promised or “anointed” one– Christ – who would deliver mankind from its original sin, bringing the people back to God.
Now, only a week later, Jesus is on the run. Herod is planning to kill him. Jesus –as King of the Jews – is a threat to Herod’s dynasty. Matthew says:
He gave orders for the massacre of all children in Bethlehem and its
neighborhood, of the age of two years or less, corresponding with the time
he had ascertained from the astrologers (2:16b-17a).
It seems a bit paradoxical to me. Jesus is Son of God. Angels proclaim him. Shepherds and wise men worship him. He is King. He is God incarnate. How is it that Herod can be such a threat to him? Wouldn’t God protect him?
Why do we have to hear about Herod trying to murder Jesus – every year after Christmas – and massacring kids while Jesus and his family fleeing to Egypt? It’s only recounted in Matthew. Is it historical; or sort of a prequel – like the Hobbit – before we get to the real meat of the Jesus story. Is it just filler so people can take a week off after Christmas?
Why is it so important for Christians to hear the story of Jesus’ birth, and then about Herod, and fleeing to Egypt, every year? What were Matthew and Luke thinking?
It occurred to me that maybe the whole story might be more of a metaphor than what really happened – like a myth – the way it must have happened even if it didn’t actually happen quite that way.
In Ephesians (3:17), St. Paul prays that:
Through faith Christ may dwell in your hearts in love.
And along the same lines, Jeremiah (31:33-34) quotes God as saying:
I will set my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will become their God and they shall become my people. No longer need they teach
one another to know the Lord.
And a bit earlier in Ephesians, Paul says:
In Christ, we have access to God with freedom, in the confidence born of trust in Him.
So what I thought is that maybe this whole Jesus-born-and-fleeing story is a
Jesus is supposed to dwell in our hearts and guide our actions as Christians. I
guess its through Jesus dwelling in our hearts that God writes his laws in us.
But first he has to be born into our hearts. It’s hard to believe Jesus is already
in peoples’ hearts when we are born or there probably wouldn’t be so many
Muslims, Hindus, and atheists, or so much evangelism to get people to come to
Jesus. And then, the first thing that happens after Jesus is born into our hearts and we are so appreciative that He has come, is that Herod sets out to kill him, and he must flee for his life, until the threat is passed.
And so I wonder: who is Herod, in this allegory?
So when Jesus is born in my heart, who is this Herod who wants to kill him,
and stay in control? What is it in my life, or my hopes, or my ambitions for my life,that makes Jesus run until the old king dies, and the dust settles?
Our Hebrews reading (2:15-16) might hold a clue. It says, since the children, as Jesus calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through His death, He might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives, because of their fear of death.
Is it the perfectly natural fear of death that makes me into Herod and makes
me want to drive Jesus away?
Jesus is born in your heart but then reality sets in pretty quick. I’m supposed to
ask, “What would Jesus do?” And Jesus is going to say, “Do more.” But I’m only
going to live once. I could die at any time. Jesus is just not supporting my self-
interest; I’m supposed to sacrifice!
So, maybe I am Herod.
Carrie Underwood released a song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”, in 2009, that shows what Jesus does when He lives in your heart. It’s about a young mother spinning out of control on black ice, going way too fast on the highway, her baby sleeping in the back seat. She throws up her hands from the steering wheel and prays:
Jesus take the wheel,
Cause I can’t do it on my own,
Give me one more chance.
I’m sorry for the way I’ve been living my life.
I’m letting go, so give me one more chance.
Oh Jesus, take the wheel
And He does. Then He drives you through your life, taking you to the places He thinks you should go, to do the things He thinks you should do.
You’re losing your old life.
And you’re fearful.
I say, “It’s not in my self-interest.”
I say, “What’s going to happen to me?”
In fear of death, afraid of losing out, I become Herod, and aim to put an end to all this foolishness before it’s too late. I lash out and want to hurt…aiming for Jesus?
My ideals? My caring for others? The charities I used to support? The beggars I
pass by in the street, to whom I used to give food, or socks, or mitts?
I hurt myself.
As Herod hurt himself. The great builder of the Jerusalem Temple is remembered as a murderer of children.
John (1:5) says:
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
I am the darkness. I asked for the light, but now that I can see, I just can’t – don’t want to – understand. Jesus wants me to be so different from who I’ve always been.
John (3:19) says:
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
It sometimes seems that it was easier when I was fumbling around in the dark;
doing whatever I wanted, justifying it as “self-interest.”
So much easier to slip from the intended Grace.
Easy, so easy.