His name was Herod. Somewhere along the lines, people added the title “Great” to his name. Maybe out of genuine awe of all his accomplishments. Maybe out of fear. Most probably, a complicated combination of both. Let’s be honest, he wasn’t complaining. That name was much more flattering than some of the whispers heard in the marketplace.
Herod has worked hard to get where he was. He kept on trying to convince himself that all was for the sake of the people. Who else was able to occupy a land and pacify the people? He was made governor of Galilee at the young age of 25. The fact that he was capable at collecting taxes and efficiently quelling uprisings did not go unnoticed by the Romans. Thus, he was made ruler over a people who he was not even an actual part of. That was accomplishment.
He did a lot of good! He was what people called “master builder.” His building projects were unparalleled. He built ports, the Herodium citadel, the Masada fortress. Most importantly, he renovated the Jerusalem temple. The Jews should love him! He’s a great king!
Behind the splendor and majesty and charm was a man haunted by fear. Herod’s deepest and darkest secret lived in his own mind, and every day he had to wrestle with his fear. What if one day someone came and proved to be more? What if he woke up one day and found himself without his kingdom? What if someone greater came along and left him without people and without his accomplishments?
He had a lot of wives and a lot of children. (Emphasis on “had.”) He was very well aware that the people who have the ability to hurt you the most are the people closest to you. The threat to his throne and accomplishments have always been, he surmised, close to home. So he eliminated the threats.
Even love was dangerous to Herod. He loved Mariamme, his first wife. She was beautiful, headstrong and challenging. To protect her from other threats, he had created an insurance plan. If anything happened to him on one of his official trips, he had some of his loyal guards stationed to kill Mariamme upon hearing the news. He needed to protect her.
Being a king is difficult, but he wasn’t going to give it up. He was King of the Jews.
They watched the heavens closely. Every night, they charted the stars and observed the skies. They consulted the records of symbols and astronomy in pursuit of something. Something greater than themselves. Something of wonder.
It seems to them that the heavens had fallen into a routine. Nothing new under the sky. Yet they keep on searching and watching. Waiting for something wonderful to appear.
Then one night, something did happen. A star shone brightly in the night sky. It was a star much different from the usual inhabitants of the heavens. This was something unknown, something that was new and unexplainable. Somehow, this new star beckons to them, as if welcoming them to the source of wonder.
Having spent their entire lives waiting for wonder to strike, these men consulted their library for an explanation. They consulted prophecies and poetry and memoirs and records. Their studies point to only one possible explanation. An important individual has just been born, a king that even the heavens celebrate. A king heralded by the celestial lights.
And they went. The star called, they followed. Over expanses of desert and over mountains and valleys. Through villages and towns. They followed the unknown light.
To Judea, land of the Jews.
Assuming that the palace would be a logical place for kings, they went to the court of Herod the Great. For surely, a great king would be found there. But as they arrived in the courtyard, there were no festivities appropriate for a new heir’s birth. The courtyard was dark and cold, with shadows that lurked in the night. They walked gingerly in to an audience with the king.
Herod sat on his throne, his royal robes around him and his fingers adorned with gold. He sat with his head held high, a kingly posture. The foreign men in front of him laid eyes on the king and saw the gaunt in his eyes. Something was eating him alive from the inside.
The monster flared inside Herod. A new king? Fear and fatigue threatened to overflow. Yet another threat to his reign. When will this ever stop?
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him,” (Matthew 2:3-8). Herod had no intentions of worshiping this child. This child was yet another threat to his kingdom. A threat to be eliminated.
After a while of waiting, Herod realized that the Magis were not going to bring back reports of this new king. He had to make a quick decision, so he wrote up a decree and marked it with his seal.
The wise men did not understand what they were looking for, but they pressed on and encountered Christ. As humans, we were born with the desire for wonder. The feeling surges when we look anything beautiful and breath-taking. The feeling, though, was given to us so that we may be able to
truly experience the wonder of pursuing and being pursued by Christ.
Herod lived in such fear that he missed an opportunity to encounter Christ. As humans, fear is a regular part of our existence. We battle with it every day. Fear takes a hold of us and fools us into thinking that we will be fine being king over our own lives. Then our fears and our insecurities reign freely, putting us as slave to them and our desires, when we are actually called to follow Christ. We are called to surrender our fears and our hearts to him, and let Him - The True King - set us free.
Come! Let us adore Him, Christ our King!
Catch the full series "Stories," looking at different character perspectives within the Christmas story here.