Summary: Ephiphany - keep Christmas all year
Sermon: “It Ain’t Over Yet” Matt 2:1-12 January 5, 2003
As I sat yesterday in my living room amidst a room full of broken after Christmas toys, stale goodies and dusty decorations I realized I am ready for the Christmas to be over, ready for the decorations to be put away. After all it is eleven days after Christmas. By a show of hands how many of you have already put up your Christmas decorations?
Departments stores, drugstores and malls have taken down their decorations and relegated Christmas items to a few disorderly discount shelves in the back while Valentine’s Day has taken over the prominent display area. For most Americans Christmas is this tight little packaged squeezed between Thanksgiving and December 25. As if Mary and Joseph were visited by an angels, Mary became pregnant went to Bethlehem, had a baby, laid him in a manger, the angels sang, shepherds and wise men came thirty days passed and ta da it was over.
But the real Christmas, the first Christmas didn’t happen that way.
There was nine agonizing months of waiting, swelling ankles, pickle and ice cream cravings, nine months of “Do you still think I’m pretty?”, nine months of gossip and speculations, a treacherous journey to Bethlehem, a frustrating search for a room, the disappointment of a cattle stall, dirty shepherds, angelic hosts, and the passing of time.
Lots of time had passed. Then the wise men came. They weren’t there when Jesus was born. They weren’t part of the nativity scene. Look with me at the scripture, verse 11. They found him in s a house, not a manger.
The census crowd had begun to thin out and Joseph had secured a place for them, a house, not a stable stall anymore, maybe even a real home. Perhaps Joseph had even found work and was in the middle of a job, possibly that is why they were still in Bethlehem. Jesus was no longer an infant, a baby. He is described as a child. And we know Herod after having asked the magi when the star first appeared, calculated that the Christ child was no older than two years of age. We know this because of the killing spree he later ordered.
A year or more had passed and Christmas wasn’t over yet. And with the passing of time we find three very diverse reactions to the Christmas story.
Herod was the ruler at the time. How ironic that the magi ask Herod, whose official title is king of the Jews, about a baby who has been born king of the Jews. Verse 3 – Why would an adult, male, king be threatened by a baby?
According to the world’s standards, Herod was an immensely successful king. But he was by no means, a benevolent ruler. Many historians describe him as a man of stern and cruel disposition – "brutish and a stranger to all humanity.” Herod the Great was a Jew and although he was the King reigning in Jerusalem – he was not of the line of David. His ascent to throne of Judea had been a political arrangement of power and force.
His father was Antipater II, a Jew who was appointed by Julius Caesar as governor of Judea. His mother was an Arab. Mark Anthony appointed Herod “King of Judea” in 40 B.C.; and, after a three-year civil war his power was never really challenged. He was an effective, but cruel, authoritarian ruler. In a fit of paranoid rage he had his wife, three sons, a brother and his mother in law executed. The Roman Emperor, Augustus, said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than to be Herod’s son.
When Herod first gained Jerusalem as the major city in his kingdom of Palestine, he executed forty-five of the noblest and richest people. He then appointed an obscure Babylonian to the High Priesthood whom he later replaced with his nephew-in-law. But Herod soon tired of him and had him drowned while he was bathing. Over the course of his reign Herod changed the High Priesthood six times!
He was fond of splendor, and lavished great sums in rebuilding and adorning the cities in his empire. He rebuilt the city of Caesarea and Samaria. The country prospered, the rich got richer and the poor got poor. He began a lavish rebuilding of the Temple. He sold a gold plate to feed the hungry all under the pretense that he was a committed and devout Jew.
Herod the Great, was a manipulator and a pretender. He said and did things to influence others to his own advantage, for his personal gain. He said he wanted to worship the Messiah, but his actions and words were intended to deceive the Magi and manipulate them for information.