Summary: This was written for the second week in Advent and focuses on the differences that the events in Bethlehem made in the lives of some
Wow, the second week of Advent, and as we were reminded earlier the second candle to be lit on the advent wreath is the Bethlehem candle. And it brings our focus to bear on the town of Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus.
We sing about it in Little Town of Bethlehem and Once in Royal David’s City but do we ever really think about Bethlehem? Presently it’s population is around 29,000 which is four times what it was in 1948 when Israel became a nation and probably close to 15 times what it was when Jesus was born. It is called the city of David, but everything is relative, and apparently cities back then weren’t what they are today.
Here is a picture of Bethlehem in 1895, only 30 years after Philip Brooks had visited the town that inspired the carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. It was in Bethlehem that Jacob buried Rachel. And it was in Bethlehem that Ruth lived married Boaz. But to most Jews the very name Bethlehem was synonymous with King David, who was born and raised in Bethlehem.
And so it was here in this little town 9 kilometers from Jerusalem that Jesus Christ the son of God was born. Some folks say this probably isn’t were Jesus was born because in the Gospels he is referred to as a Galilean or a Nazarene and Bethlehem was in Judea. No problem, I was born in Chatham but that isn’t were I tell people I’m from, not that I have anything against Chatham. I only lived there for a few months of my life before my parents moved. And so when people ask me where I’m from I say Saint John, although I only actually lived in Saint John between the ages of 16 and 19.
And it was in Bethlehem where we see who mankind becomes divided into three separate groups when Christmas rolls around.
And what that proves is that the more things change the more things stay the same because on the first Christmas we see how the feelings of people polarized because of the events in this obscure little village.
Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. The first person we need to look at this morning is Herod the King. And it is here that we discover that Sometimes Christmas Brings Out the Worst in People. Now Herod has received a lot of bad press through the years. You ever get the feeling that sometimes we need to tear heroes and historical figures down just on principal. In Australia they talked about the “tall poppy syndrome” and that was the desire to pull anyone down who had risen above the herd, that is if poppies come in herds.
In Herod’s case it may very well have been valid. Now granted he wasn’t perfect but he wasn’t entirely bad either. After all he wasn’t called Herod the Great for nothing. Herod was half Jew and half Gentile. He had curried favor with the Romans during the civil wars in Palestine and kept the locals in line for the Romans.
While this did nothing to endear him to the Jewish population it endeared him to the Romans and if nothing else Herod knew which side his bread was buttered on. In 47 BC he was appointed Governor of Palestine and seven years later he was appointed King by Octavian who you would know better as Caesar Augustus. Now not even the Tories can do partronize like that.
The title Herod the Great wasn’t simply an empty title, he kept peace in Palestine throughout his reign which was no mean feat, he rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, built many great fortresses including the mountain top fort of Masada. In the year 12 BC he underwrote the cost of the Olympic games in Greece and was named the games “Perpetual President.”
And he wasn’t all bad as a politician, during the lean years he stopped collecting taxes, boy there’s a suggestion for an economic stimulus package that doesn’t involve bailing out inefficient auto companies , and in 24 BC he had his gold plates melted down to buy corn for the poor.
But he did have one small, little problem. I mean face it we all have one problem or another don’t we? Herod’s was that he kept killing people. Not just anyone, just anyone he suspected might be a threat to his leadership. You see he was insanely suspicious and paranoid and he was always afraid that people were trying to usurp him. Not that they weren’t. And the older he got the more suspicious he got until someone ever referred to him as a “Murderous Old Man”
During his reign he had his wife Mariamne executed along with her mother Alexandra, his eldest son Antipater, his middle son Alexander and his third son Aristobulus. Augustus stated at one point “It is safer to be Herod’s pig then to be his son.”