Figures of the Nativity—Herod
By Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, December 11, 2018
Most movies have a villain. In fact, the storyline in many movies, as well as in life in general, is the conflict between good and evil. In Christian terms, church fathers and saints have written about spiritual warfare—the conflict between Godliness and things that are against God. In the Nativity story, we have our villain, and it’s King Herod.
When the wise men came to Jerusalem asking King Herod “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him”, (Matthew 2:2) it’s no wonder that Herod was upset. He would have been upset on three fronts. First, He was the King of the area, and any other ruler would have been a threat to his rule. Second, the Romans were ruling over the Jews. The Jews had no king. Rather they were ruled by the religious establishment, who maintained some tenuous relationship with Rome. The Romans were hard on the Jews but not the Jewish leaders. The Jewish leaders accepted the gratuity of the Romans and kept their underlings in line. A “king” might galvanize the Jewish people (who outnumbered the Romans) of the area, and overthrow both the Jewish Temple leadership and the Roman authorities. And third, if the wise men had seen the star all the way “in the East” it meant that the fame of this new king had spread far beyond Judea, to a massive area. This was a massive problem for Herod.
So, Herod devised a plan—He ascertained from the wise men what time the star had appeared. He even accepted the message of the wise men, pretending to want to go and worship the child as well. All the while, he was conceiving a plan to murder all the male children who were as old as the time the star appeared.
After the wise men visited Jesus, they were told in a dream not to return to Herod and they did not. Joseph was told in a dream to go to Egypt to escape the slaughter of innocents that Herod was about to unleash. And Herod killed all the children age 2 or younger in all that region, about 14,000 children. In the end, as always happens, good won over evil. Jesus was not killed by Herod, but returned with Mary and Joseph after the death of Herod and was raised quietly in Nazareth, preparing for His earthly ministry.
Who is Herod in the modern world? Those who pretend to like the good while at the same time leaning toward the evil. There is probably a little bit of King Herod in all of us. In a sense we all live “double-lives.” We all have our good selves and we all have our moments when we are not so good. Before we bash King Herod too badly, we have to look at ourselves and ask ourselves do we ever act like him?
It’s probably fair to say that one of the greatest challenges of life is to live with a single focus—on the things of God. There hasn’t been one day when I have been able to focus exclusively on God. Some material, or earthly, or egotistical, or selfish thought inevitably invades my brain space. Prayer, worship, moral living, and acts of charity help maintain focus on God. The more we do of these things, the sharper our focus will tend to be. The less we do of these things, the more space there is for thoughts of evil to come into our minds and hearts.
One other thought about King Herod—He didn’t say to the wise men “Let me go with you on your journey of discovering Christ.” Rather he said “Go and find Him, and then come and tell me.” In the journey to Christ, it doesn’t do much good for someone else to make it and bring us the highlights. To know Christ is to make that journey ourselves. For while we may come to know ABOUT Christ through others, we can only KNOW Christ if we seek Him out ourselves.
Since the Lord Jesus was born of the Holy Virgin, the universe has been illumined. Shepherds were keeping watch, and Magi were adoring Him, and Angels were singing praises, and Herod was troubled; for God appeared in the flesh, yes, the Savior of our souls. (Stichera, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
The lessons of King Herod: We can’t know Christ by sending others to find Him. And we can’t sustain a strong relationship with Christ if we try to live a double life. Rather we are to seek a single focus—HIM!
~Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Tampa, FL, http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/.