Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Other Christmas Story

Everyone is familiar with the story of Christmas as expressed in song, Nativity scenes, pageants and those lovable TV Specials we all can't wait to watch. The most common image is of Mary, Joseph, shepherds and assorted livestock, the 3 wise guys (actually there may have been several more Magi) the guiding star, angels singing (theoretically, though the Bible doesn't say that) and last but. certainly not least, the most famous Jewish kid in the world, the Baby Jesus.
But, there is one set of folks you'll never see in any one's manger scene nor hear any yule tide refrains about; the ones who bore the wrath of the then Roman allowed Monarch of Judea/Palestine. I'm referring to the monster named King Herod I and the actions he took against the innocent that first Christmas.
As your Bible makes clear, the Magi and their entourage were looking for this new born King of Kings. He was the one their star charts and their study of Hebrew/Chaldean manuscripts indicated would be born at that time and place. It was natural for these out-of-towners to assume that the Nation of Judea would also be anticipating and awaiting and perhaps, celebrating. Though scripture doesn't say much about what these foreigners were thinking as they entered the Capital City, I suspect they were puzzled by the clueless-attitudes they observed among the majority of the people and their leaders as to what their own prophets and forefathers had predicted and yearned for. Sound familiar? These wandering astronomers and theologians were so excited, they traveled two thousand miles or more to catch a glimpse of this child king and honor him with their wealth.
Very little enthusiasm existed in Judea either among it's citizens, religious leaders, or corrupt political heads. According to Matthew Chapter 2, These wise "Kings" of the east were asking King Herod I where was this "King of the Jews?" Those ancient sages were excited, but Herod was troubled Scripture says. So was everyone else in town and according to the Bible he summoned the Chief priests, scribes etc. to figure out where the Scriptures said the Christ was to be born. Once he was told Bethlehem, he "secretly" summoned the wise guys (so much for your transparency in government) and charged them to diligently search for the child. If they found this Christ Child, they were to let him know so he could go himself to worship the child. Of course, as the story progresses, you see that Herod had ulterior motives. How often political leaders use the zeal of the faithful as a ruse to promote quite a different agenda!
As the story goes, after the Magi found, honored with gifts and worshiped the Baby Jesus, they were warned by God not to go back to Jerusalem or tell old Herod anything. God also told them to travel a different way home. God knew exactly what was in King Herod's heart. Herod was jealous of Jesus, was afraid of losing his throne and power base. He wanted to "off" this kid. Joseph was also warned by God in a dream and was told that King Herod wanted to find the Christ Child and destroy Him. So according to Scripture the little family slipped out of town and fled to Egypt. The valuable treasures that the Wise Men had given them would sustain them for several years while hiding in Egypt. Isn't it astounding how God provided for this poor carpenter and his young wife?!
Now, here is where the story turns ugly. Once Herod realized he had been "tricked" by the Wise Men, Scripture indicates he was enraged. He summoned his soldiers to go and kill every male child aged 2 and under who lived in Bethlehem and the entire region. This too was also prophesied in Scripture. Matthew 2:18 recounts: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation. Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."
Dozens, perhaps hundreds of toddlers and pregnant mothers were butchered because an old King was jealous for power, wealth, status and personal glory. He was not going to submit any of this to any Christ even though Scripture made clear this baby Jesus was the Savior. He was, in reality, warring against God. Pure insanity was on full display!
In a Bible study/home church I attended a number of years ago, a young lady in our group was having trouble with this part of the Christmas story. Why would a loving God allow all of those innocent children to be murdered, she asked? I blurted out something to the effect that He still does. Ever heard of abortion? Yet that still didn't answer the heart of the question. The leader that night expounded upon it this way. In God's wisdom and mind, which none of us on this side of eternity can fully fathom, He apparently allowed, innocent blood to be shed to save the helpless Jesus and family and to buy freedom for them. Joseph, Mary and child escaped into Egypt eventually. Herod was probably convinced he had killed his rival for the throne and thus ended his search and efforts to destroy the Christ Child. After all, isn't that why Christ died for us? Are we not helpless to save ourselves? Are we not sentenced to death for our sins? Are we not facing the rage of this world and it's usurper "king," Lucifer?
Now, you may or may not accept the rationale of that Bible study leader. It seems plausible to me. Honestly, I don't 100% know why God allowed all of those children to be slaughtered. I know He is sovereign, but he allows man fee will.
Nevertheless, I believe there is a stark object lesson here that speaks to anyone who possesses a tender heart.
This too is a part of the Christmas story. No, I have never seen figurines of King Herod I, his soldiers, bloody toddlers and gouged open mothers as part of Nativity scenes sold in department stores or otherwise. I probably never will. It doesn't fit well with the Yuletide decor or the soothing Johnny Mathis Christmas Music wafting out of the store sound system. I suspect if somebody had the "juevos" to put something like that along side the manger scenes and call it "The Other Christmas Story" it would be met with more protests and horror than the ACLU or Atheist activists give regular manger scenes on Courthouse and Statehouse properties!
The fact is, a REAL Baby Jesus was born into an ugly, gritty, evil, world teaming with the naive and wicked. Most of the world then was not happy that Christ was born and most of it is still not. Just look at the dubbed "War on Christmas" that is still waged by all of the modern day "Herods" and their lawyers. Sadly, not much has changed overall with mankind, in over 2000 years.
A just God will eventually take His revenge on those who destroy the innocent, you can count on that like next December 25. He allows man to choose life or death; salvation or destruction.
We each have our own Christmas Story of sorts. Will we choose to honor, worship and trust this now grown up and resurrected Jesus, this God in the flesh? Or, will we be a Herod, rejecting His authority and living in rage or indifference towards God and hurting the innocent in the process? The choice is yours. Will you live like it's Christmas all year in giving to and serving others? Or, will you live a selfish life of destruction, hurting others or living in apathy? Which character in the Christmas Story will you choose to be? Like my old story telling Choctaw friend, Tim Tingle used to say in Choctaw- "Cha tah ha piah ho kay." Translated, "Now the Story...is yours."