Advent of the (Rival) King: Conclusion

NativityMy previous posts on Matt. 2:1-3 concentrated on the actions of the Magi/Astrologers and their cultural significance. This essay with instead view the reactions of Herod and, indeed, the entire city of Jerusalem.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, look, Astrologers from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Judeans? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

We find that the reaction is not as we would expect. It certainly was not the “Joy To The World” we proclaim during this season. On this one front, at least, both Herod and the denizens of Jerusalem had something in common: they were both troubled by this news of a new King being born. The history surrounding the first Nativity is best illustrated by the old oriental saying, “May you live in interesting times.” That maxim was not meant as a blessing.

Almost in accordance with that adage, one of the meanings Strong’s gives for the Greek word translated as “troubled” in this passage is “to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread.” I chose for purposes of this essay to emphasize that definition: fear. Both Herod and the inhabitants reacted with fear to the news of the baby born “King of the Judeans.”

I propose that this would have been their only reasonable reaction to that news: fear. The historic response of Herod and Jerusalem was quite understandable. A new King born outside of the current and officially-declared family line would make for “interesting times.” It was a cause for trouble and for fear. A New King demanded alliances, allegiances, and loyalties that woould be at war with those that were already established.

That was true then. It is becoming true again now. Our society has becoming increasingly self-conscious in its recognition of the threat Christmas brings. Since approximately 1945, our culture has pierced the veil of the “universal” warm Hallmark image of a mother and her newborn baby and recognized the threat to its underlying philosophy of tolerance that the this “particular” babe in the manger represents. In the spheres of the courts, the government, the public schools, and the merchants, society has acted with increasing effort to avoid or disguise the Magi’s proclamation that the King of the Judeans is born. In various ways these groups have fought to suppress the only true “universal” aspect that message: that all of the world, even those outside of Judea, must bow in submission to this great and living King. Recently the kingdoms of this earth, the United States included, have reacted like Herod in the only reasonable fashion to the message of the Nativity—with fear.

The history of the court cases against Christmas illustrates this reaction of fear. The government and the ACLU know that much more is at stake than plastic figures in a manger, the singing of songs, and expressions of greeting. The very philosophical foundations of the secular state and its legitimization are placed in peril by the existence of an explicitly historic and Christian understanding of the claims of Christmas.

This recognition has been fairly recent: Prior to 1945 there were no relevant references to Christmas in Supreme Court cases. Since then, there have been many. A listing of the major cases, seven in all, are listed at, The Establishment “Claus” A Selective Guide to the Supreme Court’s Christmas Cases by Stephen Young. All feature the efforts of groups to remove figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Magi from display on public property, with varying degrees of success.


Then we must discuss cases and situations that have not advanced to the Supreme Court. Others have noted Christmas choir programs at public schools where not an actual Christmas carol is sung. Christianity Today lists instances where students in public schools have been “forbidden from saying ‘merry Christmas’ or even wearing red or green.”


More recently, the effects have moved beyond the Nativity to the mention of the word “Chistmas” itself. The City of Boston, at least temporarily, officially renamed a giant tree erected in a city park a “holiday tree” instead of a “Christmas tree.” The Washington Times reports that the White house has embroiled itself in controversy going both ways on the issue. “Calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree has become a politically charged prospect in jurisdictions across the country — from Boston to Sacramento and in dozens of communities in between.”


Even the venerable finds retailers avoid the word “Christmas” as much as possible. They report here that this trend to replace the word “Christmas” with “holiday” is not a new. They note the same pattern as far back as 1997 on retailers websites. Like the court cases against the Nativity and the rules found in public schools, this trend has been set in place to avoid the offense that Christmas brings.


Christians should not be as surprised as they appear to be by this reaction. In many ways, our proclamation is been better understood now than it has in the previous centuries. Our society now perceives Christ and Christmas clearly and accurately. They know now that allegiance to the Christ-child yields no compromise or competitors. Accordingly, its reaction has now been informed and consistent. It now accords with the educated reaction of Herod the Great and of all Jerusalem.

We once again “live in interesting times.”


~ by heretic on December 24, 2005.

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