“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all
Jerusalem with him.”
– Matthew 2:3
Since it was first published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been adapted into dozens of different movies, TV specials, stage plays and musicals. Even the Muppets and Mickey Mouse have their own versions of the Christmas classic. As you may remember, the tale begins on a cold Christmas Eve in
seven years after the death of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s business
partner. Scrooge is a grumpy, penny-pinching old codger who is described by
Charles Dickens as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching,
covetous old sinner.” London,
Scrooge hates Christmas. But at home that night, Scrooge is visited by Jacob Marley’s ghost, who is forever cursed to wander the earth dragging a load of chains, forged during a lifetime of greed and selfishness. Marley tells Scrooge that he has one chance to avoid the same fate. During the night he will be visited by three spirits. He must listen to them or be cursed to carry chains of his own that are much heavier than Marley’s. And just as Marley warned him, one-by-one Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And as Scrooge is given a bird’s eye view of his past, present and future Christmases, his whole world is rattled.
King Herod’s world was rattled in much the same way shortly after Jesus’ birth—the very first Christmas—2,000 years ago. In Matthew 2, we are introduced to Herod the Great, who ruled
Israel for thirty-three years
before the birth of Christ. And we learn much about King Herod from the
writings of two First Century historians, Tacitus and Josephus. For example,
they tell us that Herod was a very accomplished yet violent leader. He poured
liberal amounts of time and money into rebuilding the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. And he
undertook other awe-inspiring building projects in and around Israel.
Yet at the same time Herod was a vindictive, murderous thug. He was insanely jealous of anyone who might threaten his reign or rule, including his own family members. Herod murdered his favorite wife and three of his sons whom he suspected of threatening his rule. At one point Herod murdered 45 Jewish noblemen, and on another occasion, he ordered his soldiers to drown the high priest Aristobolus III in one of Herod’s swimming pools.
So, when the wise men strolled into town with their entourage and enthusiastically asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” you’d better believe that Herod was disturbed. He was shaken; he was rattled. King Herod’s insecurities and fears and jealousy and paranoia were suddenly stirred up as the Magi innocently asked their question about Jesus. And the citizens of
were also disturbed. They had learned over the years that when King Herod was
disturbed, heads would roll.
the Magi followed the star to the house where Jesus (by now several months old)
was. The Magi worshiped the Christ child and gave him three gifts: gold,
incense and myrrh. Sadly, King Herod was so insanely jealous and his heart was
so hard that he ordered the extermination of every baby boy in and around Bethlehem. He issued this
order in the futile attempt to kill Jesus. But by the time Herod’s orders were
carried out, Jesus, Joseph and Mary were already several miles outside of town.
There are many lessons that we can learn from King Herod about what not to do at Christmas. I’ll highlight three. First, don’t be rattled at Christmas. Without a doubt, many of us do get rattled at Christmas. With only a matter of days until Christmas, we’re troubled by the number of things that we still have left to do. We have the unsettling feeling that we won’t get it all done. Our nerves are shaken and our fears are stirred. I believe God is telling us, “Stop it!” Each of us needs to stop and smell the Rose—the one, single Rose at the heart of Christmas—Jesus Christ, born to save the world. Most everything else is just clutter.
Second, don’t be outwitted this Christmas. The wisest, most intelligent thing we can do this Christmas season is to pursue and worship Christ. But our sinful nature and godless culture try to dumb down our Christmas celebration at every turn. Just about every Christmas TV commercial, Christmas movie and public school Christmas program tries to convince us that Christmas is just fine without Christ. Christmas is about trees and lights and mistletoe. Christmas is about presents and food and egg nog. But we as Christians know that Christmas is about so much more. Christmas is about Jesus Christ—born to save the world. Therefore, we should never allow ourselves to be outwitted by our culture’s lie that Jesus is expendable at Christmas. Make no mistake about it: Without Christ, there is no Christmas.
Finally, don’t be blinded by your anger this Christmas. Many of us dread the thought of sitting around the Christmas dinner table with Aunt Martha or Uncle Sid. They drive us up the wall and grate on our last nerve. This being the case, many of us lug around resentment and anger at Christmas. And when we do we are blinded to peace on earth and good will toward men. But just like Ebenezer Scrooge, we need to repent of our sin and surrender our anger to Christ at Christmas. And like Scrooge we must celebrate Christmas well by keeping Christ at the very heart of Christmas and celebrating him each day of the season. If we do, Tiny Tim’s words will come to pass. God will “bless us, every one.”
Dane Davis is the Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com and join us this Christmas season—Sundays at 10 am.