It really was no contest.On one side you had a king armed with all the powers of state including the army, driven by the power of fear and hate.On the other, you had a baby and they don’t come more vulnerable than that.It was a no brainer who would win if it came to a showdown.
Sunday school students and other bible scholars will know that I am referring to the match up between King Herod and the baby Jesus recorded in Matthew 2: 1-23. Like many (all?) incumbents especially illegitimate ones, Herod was on the watch for any threat to his position and power. The news that a “king of the Jews” had been born was the worst possible news.
Like tyrants everywhere he used subterfuge, out right lies and the power of violence to protect himself. After all the baby had to grow up to be a threat. How hard is it to kill a baby anyway? Like I said, choosing the winner of “The King vs. The Baby” bout was a no brainer. Which is why it is so important to remember how this contest actually turned out especially as we look at a new year through the lens of Christmas.
Very early there were already hints that things were not going to go the way of the powerful. The Magi received a divine warning about Herod’s true intentions and never went back to him to reveal the location of the baby (2:12). The parents of the baby also received a divine warning about Herod’s threat and became refugees to Egypt.
At first glance it looked like the forces of good were in retreat. Yet Egypt became a refuge for the baby, a place where he was safe from Herod (2:13-14). Things are not always what they seem. Herod with all his power was unable to kill the baby.
The power of evil is real though and many babies died as King Herod desperately tried to kill the threat to his power (2:16-18). But in the end, the baby wins and the King dies.
“After Herod had died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt saying, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ So he got up and took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-23 NET)
What was a sure bet, the victory of the King over the Baby, the no brainer, has a surprise ending. The baby wins.
This match up between the power of evil against the seeming weakness of good would be played out many times in history. The definitive match up was on the Cross. On one side was sin, Satan and death, an evil tag team that had a perfect record. On the other you had one man, Jesus, a man who was also God but still, truly a man and therefore able to die. The match of the evil tag team with the perfect record against the 33 year old carpenter turned itinerant preacher was also a no brainer. Who in their right mind would bet on the unknown preacher?
And indeed it seemed like business as usual on Good Friday. The evil tag team wins. Jesus hangs dead on the Cross. What did you expect? But on Easter Sunday we find out who was the true winner. Jesus rises triumphant from the grave. The evil tag team receives a mortal thrashing. Things are not always what they seem.
Which is something we all need to remember as we face the end of a year and as we look to another. I don’t know about you but I feel very tired. It seems everywhere I look I see the Herods of the world solidly entrenched in power. It seems everywhere I turn I see the evil tag team winning bout after bout.
I see many friends suffering horribly from cancer. I wonder how many of them will be here in the new year. I look at my beloved country Malaysia, in a low a period as any in its recent history. Internationally, well unless you are blind and your heart totally calloused, evidence of sin, death and Satan are everywhere. And even in the communities that swear allegiance to the Christ, there is so much wrong, so much heartache.
Meanwhile we receive our annual reminders to celebrate the coming of the baby. On a bad day when I am really weary, I wonder why bother. (That is if I have the energy to think at all.) What is the big deal about Christmas anyway? Besides nobody even knows the exact date that Jesus was born.
And then I remember the match ups: “Herod vs. the Baby”, “The Evil Tag Team vs. Jesus”, and I remember how those match ups turned out. And I smile, and I press on.
Blessed Christmas my friends! Things are not always what they seem.
Christ came. He will come again. Take heart.