Summary: Why is it our Christmas joy, peace, and hope are so fleeting? Perhaps, as nearly happened 2000 years ago, someone or something is trying to steal our joy.
A favorite bed time story at this time of year is the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. It begins . . .
Every Who Down in Who-ville Liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch, Who lived just north of Who-ville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas!
The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why.
No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
Well, I’m sure most of you know the story. The grinch, sitting alone in his cave up atop a snow covered mountain, was feeling more than a bit miffed about all the celebrating going on down below. And with his heart, being two sizes to small, he must have decided . . . to put a stop to it all.
In today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel, we were introduced to another Grinch – who almost stole Christmas. Now this other, much older grinch named Herod did not have fur that was green, a head that was large, and a heart that was small. But let us consider: perhaps, he did, after all.
For the child that was born in a stable that Bethlehem night,
posed a serious thorn to his eminence, gave the King quite a fright.
Thus he commanded his soldiers, sending them out late at night,
With orders to murder, to kill the Christ child, and steal our delight.
OK, I hear you: enough already with the rhyming! Those three wise men did give Herod quite a fright, apparently. Perhaps he was green with envy. Perhaps his head was swollen with self-importance. Perhaps his heart was two sizes too small. So much so, that the King ordered his soldiers to find this child, such that he might be destroyed yet in infancy. And Herod very nearly succeeded in stealing the Christ right out of Christmas. Then there would never have been a Christmas for us to celebrate. Not just in the sleepy little village of Who-ville, but in every village, across the known world, no child would be coming, no twinkling lights would be seen, no joyful caroling heard. December 25th would just be another day, one that like all the rest would come in a flash and once again go.
We might wonder how on earth a little child, born in a very lowly station in a stable in Bethlehem, could pose such a threat to the King of Israel. After all, he had been appointed by Caesar to this post in Jerusalem, named ‘King of the Jews’, as the Roman regent in that area. He had thousands of troops at his disposal. A large fortress in which to live in safety and security. And the full backing of the Roman Empire and its armies, who were in control of most of the known world at that time. Why worry about a babe lying in a manger low?
We find some clues in the beginning of chapter two of Matthew’s gospel. You might turn there with me and take a look. What, or who, was this Jesus that needed to be destroyed? Well, we see a number of things in verse two and following, where the three wise men show up on Herod’s doorstep, asking questions.
The first question those wise men asked, was: "where is the newborn King of the Jews?" Now, Herod, he thinks HE’S the KING of the Jews – not some newborn. First problem.
Next, the wise men say: We’ve seen his star rising. Hmmm. Jesus is a rising star. That probably means that Herod’s star is falling. Another problem.
Then they say: we have come to worship him. By this time, as the good book says, verse 3, Herod was deeply disturbed. Maybe unhinged. Maybe he was becoming unglued – about the possibility of a rival.
Now, if you look at Herod’s history, it appears he was guilty of murdering even his own children, his own flesh and blood, because he was filled with fear, suspicion, and jealousy. No rivals allowed. Period.
Next, Herod, being a fairly crafty fellow (you have to be fairly crafty to claw your way to near the top of the Roman Empire), starts trying to discover more about this infant King. In verse 4 it says “he called a meeting.” Interesting. Even back then, if you had a problem, you “called a meeting.” Some things never change! And he asked the assembled priests and law teachers where the Messiah would be born . . . . according to scripture.
Now here is another clue – another problem. Herod, the green faced grinch, recognizes the potential that the child the three wise men are inquiring about just may be the ‘Messiah.’ And he knew what a Messiah was. A deliverer. One who would deliver his people. And since Herod was the one holding them captive, on behalf of the Roman government, this was another real dilemma.