THE BATTLE OF BETHLEHEM CONTINUES

28 12 2019

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One of my all-time favorite stories is Charles Dickens’s, “A Christmas Carol.” Last December, I read a wonderful biography about Dickens. Did you know that in many ways, Mr. Dickens is known for redeeming the Christmas Season and bringing back the joy of the holiday?

I’ve seen almost every tv and movie version of “A Christmas Carol.” I loved Felix and Oscar’s take on it in a classic episode of “The Odd Couple.” When it comes to the big screen’s presentation of the scary ghost story, Alistair Sim gets my vote as the best Ebenezer Scrooge. As a matter of fact, after the last of the Christmas Eve Services have ended after midnight, I always come home to this. Over the years, I’ve even attended numerous live productions in New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, Omaha and Philadelphia. Here is a bit of personal insight, as a kid, I performed as Scrooge in a junior high version of the play. I still can quote verbatim most of the lines.

A Christmas Carol is like most memorable stories that we all know and love in that it features a wicked villain whose chief goal is to make Christmas as miserable or nonexistent for everyone. If you look closely, the one common denominator in almost every holiday film is that there is always an antagonist. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it’s Mr. Potter who battles George Bailey. My very favorite movie of all time, the 1947 version of “Miracle on 34th Street” has cynical Mr. Sawyer who is convinced that Kris Kringle is looney. “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” has the Abominable Snow Monster. “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” has, well, the Grinch! “Home Alone” has the bumbling wet/sticky bandits, Harry and Marv. Don’t forget the Burgermeister, Mesiterburger who outlawed toys in “Santa Claus is Coming To Town. And being an avid watcher of all things Hallmark Channel, there is always somebody in every script who is a heartless, money loving, narcistic developer who attempts to bulldoze, evict and spoil whatever yuletide joy there may be. Thank God for Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert, Erin Krakow, Danica McKellar, Alison Sweeney, Alicia Witt and all the other Hallmark heroines who jump in to save the day!

The reason I bring this all up is because the original Christmas story had its own monster. He and his cruelties were far from cute and from what we know, he never turned the nasty pages of his heart to rewrite his tale for the good. Herod was a legitimate villain, which is why we try to avoid him in all of our December memories. I don’t know of any nativity sets that include this maniac. Yet, Herod figures very prominently in the history of the birth of Jesus. To ignore him is to not only ignore the world into which Jesus was born, but to miss an important thread in God’s grand plan of redemption. Underneath the silver and gold glow of our nostalgic scenes of Bethlehem, is a very real and awfully dark thread of violence. There were signs of a spiritually driven cosmic clash between the old serpent, the dragon and the coming of the Christ!

In history class, we learned of many famous bitter battles. There was the “Battle of Bunker Hill,” the “Battle of Gettysburg,” the “Battle of the Bulge,” and Christmas which hosted the high noon showdown known as the “Battle of Bethlehem.” Like it or not, Jesus was born into a warzone.

In the months after that holy night, when the shepherds witnessed Jesus in the manger, Joseph and Mary stuck around in Bethlehem, making their temporary dwelling in David’s City. The magi were still on their way, following the star to take them to the newborn King. These pagan experts knew more about the sacred texts than the religious priests of Jerusalem. When they finally got to Jerusalem, they knew they were close and there was no stopping them now as they made this journey to honor the newborn king and pay tribute to his majesty. They began to ask around, “Where was he born the King of the Jews?”

Herod the Great was a power hungry, madman, paranoid sociopath. He actually gave himself his own nickname about being “great!” He built his legacy to give him the appearance that he was omnipresent. In addition to his fortresses at Herodium, Sebaste, Machaerus, and Masada, he also built palaces in Caesarea, Jericho, and Jerusalem. At any moment, he could have been in any one of them, so at every moment, he might as well have been in all of them. As far as it was on his watch, there could only be one ruler in Judea. When Herod heard of these learned men and their quest, his blood began to boil when he heard the words “king” and “Jews” in the same sentence with no mention of himself.

The Bible calls our enemy, the devil, and defines him as the one who wants to steal, kill and destroy anything good and godly in our lives. He knew that this Baby Jesus was under two years of age so he went on a murdering rampage eliminating every male child two years of age and under. He tried to con the magi into giving him the exact location of God’s Son but an angel prevented that from happening. It was another heavenly messenger that got Mary and Joseph out of town taking Jesus to Egypt. The Gospel of Matthew says, all of Jerusalem “was disturbed” (Matt. 2:3 NIV). The population was disturbed because the king was ticked. And like in a home where Mom isn’t happy, nobody is happy, Herod began to raise hell on earth.

There is a personal lesson we should learn from the life of Herod this Christmas. Jesus calls Christians to a lifetime of following Him and receiving His will and His way into our worlds. But too many times, when God’s kingdom threatens our meager control on our own agendas, we too begin to whine to the One we should be worshipping. The Lord doesn’t share the throne with us. If you want to be king, and someone else comes along saying He is the king, somebody has to get out of the way. Jesus is the Leader and we come to know who we are when we recognize Him as who He is. Only one person can be King of kings and Lord of lords and it isn’t us!

It’s easy for us to point to the tyrants who ruled in Jesus’ day and to the egotistical politicians who try to intimidate us today and think that we are totally innocent of ever doing right the wrong way. As long as we call earth home, there will always be a tug of war happening in our hearts. There is part of us that wants to come and adore only Jesus the Lord. There is another Herod side that will always root for our own self-centered pursuit. Herod serves as a powerful reminder that we cannot be neutral about Jesus. We are either for Him or against Him. He is either Lord of all or not at all. If God be for us, then who can be against us? This Christmas time, recognize the villain for who he or she is. There is always going to be opposition. As long as we play offense for heaven, hell is on the defensive. The Battle of Bethlehem must be won and when we lift Jesus up, we are victorious.


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