Watching with Herod

Wednesday in the Second Week of Advent 2012

The gospel writers Matthew and Luke are specific about the time of Jesus’ birth – it happened during the rule of King Herod (Matt 2:1; Luke 1:5). Is this merely orienting the reader in time and place, or are the gospelers setting up a contrast between Herod, the secular “king,” and Christ, who will re-introduce the Kingdom of God? To answer that, we must look at the political organization of Rome and the person of Herod.

Recycled wrappingIn their conniving wisdom, Rome often put local rule of the lands they had conquered into the hands of carefully-chosen leaders who were indigenous to the area but were favorable to Rome. Thus, in about 40 BC, Rome appointed Herod to rule over the region of Palestine, under Rome’s oversight. Herod was a Jew by religion, but not by lineage. His father had been an Edomite by descent, a people whom Israel considered ancient enemies.

Herod was a cruel man, fearful at all times that his power and position would be usurped – he murdered his wife, her mother, and three of his sons when he suspected they were plotting against him. He is the king for whom we remember the slaughter of the Israelites’ baby boys when he learned of the birth of Jesus.

Herod’s ambition also manifested itself in a string of building campaigns. His projects included the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the desert fortress of Masada, and the city and massive harbor works at Caesarea. For his protection, he built himself a fortress and palace – the seven-story Herodium – about 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem, near Bethlehem.

Herod could not get enough. For all of his wealth, and all of his power, Herod lived a life of scarcity.  He gathered to himself people (the loyal ones), land, and structures. And it was never enough. For him to win, someone else had to lose. For him to be right, others had to be wrong. There might not be enough to go around, and he was going to be sure he got his.

Into this is Christ born. No marble-floored palace, no silk sheets or a warm birthing blanket, no fortified city of his own away from the riff-raff.  

No, instead Jesus’ birth was accompanied by singing angels, adoring shepherds, visits from some wise people (and I don’t just mean the kings from the orient).  Sheep ceased their bleating at his arrival, camels bowed low. God’s own star lit up the sky.  God’s gift came from God’s own abundance.

“It is the father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom,” Jesus told later followers (Luke 12:32). “I have come to give you life abundant,” he said (John 10:10).

When we live in scarcity, we live out of our own resources. We shore up our storehouses from our own hard work and careful planning. We give in to a culture of frenzy so that we are sure we will have enough – enough goods, enough of the right friends, enough position and power that others cannot hurt us.

But we are a people of abundance. The Lord God Almighty, the one who created heaven and earth, is our benefactor. And this God is not going to run out of goodness. 

Someone once said to me, “When we get to heaven, we are going to find a bunch of gifts that God had for us, left unopened. And God will ask us why.”

As we prepare to give our gifts of love this Christmas, may we also prepare to receive the gift God so longs to give us – the gift of his unending abundance.


Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline.  Reach her at