Herod’s Choice: Kill the Christ

History often hails King Herod I as “Herod the Great” because he was a great builder. But as Matthew makes clear, Herod was not a great man.

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“Kill all the boys of Bethlehem, two years and under”

Imagine you’ve worked all your life to climb the ladder of success and come out on top. You’ve carefully crafted your connections, learned the rules of the game, and made sacrifice after sacrifice to get what you want. While many did little to add value, you built, and built, and built. Surely after years of success, you’ve earned the right to be the boss. So, when you hear that Management insists on putting someone new above you, you want to know: why should you submit to Him? As far as you’re concerned, He’ll only get in your way.

Friends, Herod was determined to be king. He continually cultivated contacts in Rome so that the power of the world would make him “King of the Jews.” Once king, he built aqueducts and amphitheaters, palaces and fortresses, cities and ports. He rebuilt the Temple of Jerusalem and built pagan temples elsewhere. He also murdered anyone he perceived as a threat to his rule, including one of his wives and three of his sons. Christ was a threat too. When Herod heard that God’s own anointed “King of the Jews” had been born, he made his choice. He would murder the Messiah rather than submit his kingship to Him.

Journey of the Magi

The magi courageously chose to come to Christ. In 1927, the poet T. S. Eliot made the same choice. But in all such seeking, some things must die.

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“The Journey of the Magi” (circa 1886-94) by James Tissot

Journey of the Magi
by T. S. Eliot

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels . . .

Click here to read the rest of this poem —
or to hear T. S. Eliot read it

From the Ariel Poems poetry pamphlet Series
(Faber & faber,1927)

The Magi Find and Worship the Christ

Tradition has turned the magi into nativity statues. But in the truth of Matthew’s gospel, these men made a daring choice to seek a king.

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They were wise men

Imagine you have wealth that most in the world can only dream of. You’ve been given education so ample that you make your living not by the sweat of your brow, but by the knowledge and expertise you possess. While many struggle and others starve, you and your friends are a favored group; you are people of position and high standing. So, when news breaks that the “King of the Jews” has been born, why should you change your life to seek Him?

Yet that’s exactly what the men called magi decided to do. These wealthy, learned, comfortable men resolved to leave their lives behind so they could find and worship the Christ. Friends, to seek Him from a distant land was not a painless proposition. They had to leave their homes, families, and jobs. They had to organize a large, expensive caravan and risk a dangerous, months-long journey on trade routes rife with bandits. They had to meet with a treacherous King Herod. The magi not only decided to do all this, but they did it with joy. They joyfully found the Christ, bowed down, and gave their treasures to Him.

The Vigil of Joseph

Joseph chose to believe God’s unbelievable plan. But imagine what thoughts must still have harried his heart. In 1910, poet Elsa Barker did.

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Detail from “The Dream of St Joseph” (1773-74) by Anton Raphael Mengs
Click here to see the full painting

The Vigil of Joseph
by Elsa Barker

After the Wise Men went, and the strange star
Had faded out, Joseph the father sat
Watching the sleeping Mother and the Babe,
And thinking stern, sweet thoughts the long night through.

“Ah, what am I, that God has chosen me
To bear this blessed burden, to endure
Daily the presence of this loveliness,
To guide this Glory that shall guide the world?

“Brawny these arms to win Him bread, and broad
This bosom to sustain Her. But my heart
Quivers in lonely pain before that Beauty
It loves — and serves — and cannot understand!”

from The Frozen Grail and other poems by elsa barker
(duffield & Company, 1910)

Joseph Believes God’s Unbelievable Plan

The Gospel of Matthew starts in a remarkable way. Right from the beginning, Jesus coming into the world means people have to make decisions.

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Which way will Joe go?

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. Mary, the woman you’re betrothed to, is pregnant, and you know the baby isn’t yours. She swears that she’s been faithful to you, that she’s pregnant not by man but through the power of the Holy Spirit. You love her and want badly to believe her, but this is a thing unheard of. How can you accept this incredible claim? It flies in the face of everything you know to be true. You have to quietly send Mary away from you. The law says she should be stoned, but you don’t want that. Enough has been lost already.

Friends, God’s plan for Joseph and his family was so incredible he could not accept it until an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and confirmed Mary’s story. Even then, he could have decided to send Mary away. Even then, he faced a hard choice. To take Mary as his wife meant embracing stigma and scandal. To believe and obey God meant losing reputation and standing in the world. Tongues would always wag about the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. But Joseph chose to trust God. He chose to believe God’s unbelievable plan, to take Mary as his wife, and to become the earthly father of the Son of God.