Anyone who has ever seen a Christmas pageant, or read the Book of Luke, or maybe even just seen “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special”, with the memorable recitation of Luke 2:8-14 by the character Linus, is familiar with the angelic announcement of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Glory to God in the highest!”, the angel proclaims.
But to whose ears did this monumental announcement come? A handful of shepherds who were tending their flocks in the countryside around Bethlehem. God could have commissioned His angel to carry this Message to the courts of the mightiest kings and rulers in all the Earth, even to the court of Augustus Caesar himself. But He did not. Instead, He sent the news to those who would welcome it, to those whose hearts were ready to receive their Savior.
Some time after Jesus was born, the wise men from the East entered Jerusalem. They followed the customary practice and, being that they were searching for a King, went straight to the local palace. They did not inquire of the local shepherds, they did not search the stables and feeding troughs of the city. For it was the King of the Jews Who had been born, would not the local king in Jerusalem have known where He was? Wouldn’t he have welcomed the birth of the Messiah?
“When Herod heard these things he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3)
Does it not seem that the verse should read, “When Herod heard these things he was delighted?” How is it that anyone, upon hearing news that the long-awaited Savior of mankind has been born, would be troubled by this? But he was. Not only that, all of Jerusalem was troubled with him (which makes it implausible that there were only three magi who had arrived in Jerusalem. The whole city was in a commotion, suggesting that there were most likely anywhere from several dozen to a couple of hundred “wise men” riding into town). The shepherds rejoiced and praised God when they had visited the Lord Jesus (Luke 2:20), they went with haste to see what the angel had told them of (Luke 2:16). But Herod first became concerned, then irritated, then angry over the whole matter. The wise men who came seeking the Child rejoiced with exceeding joy upon seeing the guiding star again (Matthew 2:10), while Herod interrogated the priests and scribes about the place where the Messiah was to be born (Matthew 2:4). The wise men worshiped Him when they found Him (2:11), but Herod sought to have the Baby killed (2:16).
What remarkably different reactions to the news of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ we see between the wise men and Herod, and between the shepherds around Bethlehem and the citizenry of Jerusalem. How is it that the very same news, the exact same proclamation of the Savior’s birth, could elicit two completely opposite responses? The birth of Jesus should have been heralded by the entire world, His coming should have been proclaimed with great joy from the mightiest palaces to the lowliest hovels throughout the entire land. Herod’s ruse was that he, too, desired to worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:8), but that should have been exactly what he did. Even Caesar should have come to see the Lord at His birth, but instead he busied himself making sure that all the peoples of his empire were accounted for. While he occupied himself with assuring that no resident of Rome would slip through the cracks and fail to pay what was deemed their share of taxes, the One Who could have given him eternal life was born within his borders, and he did not even notice.
Herod’s problem was that he saw himself as the “king of the Jews.” A wicked man, hungry for power, he had no interest in sharing his kingdom with anyone, even if it was God in the flesh. Without a doubt, Caesar would have responded in kind at the notion that there was One Whose Kingdom would overshadow his own. We may not have earthly kingdoms of our own over which we rule, but each one of us also sits upon a throne before we learn of Jesus Christ. That throne is the throne of our own lives, the throne of doing things our own way, the throne of seeking after our own interests. Herod would have had to concede that he was not the one in ultimate control of his own kingdom had he bowed his knee to Jesus, something he was entirely unwilling to do. For many people, the thought of abdicating their own throne to make room for Jesus is just as troubling.
This Christmas, many people will “celebrate” the birth of Jesus Christ by spending money on loved ones, eating huge dinners, or attending Christmas parties. They will be busying themselves with enlarging their own kingdoms and sitting steadfast on their own thrones. They will tell others, “Merry Christmas”, but will give no thought at all to the One Who was born in the manger, the One Whose birth the angel announced on that night long ago. Oh, they might sing a song or two about Him, or give away a few greeting cards with a nativity scene on it, but their gesture will be as hollow as Herod’s: Let me sing this Christmas carol, that I may worship Him, too. And all the while they are greatly troubled by the notion that there is a rightful Ruler Who wishes to reign in their own heart.
We must all ask ourselves if we are like the shepherds and the magi, or if we are like Herod and the people of Jerusalem. Do we welcome the news of His coming, or are we troubled by it? Would we have gone to the manger to see the newborn King, or would we have simply gone about our daily lives, as if He had not come? When the announcement that the Lord Jesus Christ has come and that He is the rightful King and Ruler of our hearts falls upon our own ears, we must decide if we will make room for Him to reign on the throne, or if we are more interested in clinging to our own place there.