I officiated a funeral a couple of weeks ago and as we remembered this persons life, there was not a dry eye in the room. Story after story was shared of how this person had made an impact in peoples lives and how this world would not be the same without her.
As I drove home from that funeral, I started thinking about my own life. If I died today, would people be sad that I died, would it be hard for my friends and family, or would people simply move on?
These questions have been swirling in the back of my mind since that funeral and my guess is that everyone, at one point or another, wonders these same questions.
As I have been reading through the birth story of Jesus, I keep finding myself intrigued by a certain character named King Herod. You may know him as Herod the Great.
In the second chapter of Matthew, we find that wise men had followed a start to Bethlehem looking for a child that had been born to be the King of the Jews. This news terrified Herod. His first reaction was to call all of the chief priests and scribes to ask them where this child was supposed to be born according to the teaching of the prophets.
When they informed him that this child was to be born in Bethlehem, in his very town, Herod became even more terrified. In his fear, he secretly called for the wise men to come to him and tell him when they first saw the star. Herod hoped that in finding out how long this start had been shining, he would know about how old this child was.
We find out later in the story that Herod sent his soldiers to kill every child in and around Bethlehem who would have been two years old and under. He hoped that in doing this, he would eliminate the threat of this future king.
Every year, as I read this story, I cannot help but reflect on what must have been going on in Herod’s heart during this season. What did he think when he first saw this bright star shining in the sky? Did he see this as a gift from the gods for him? I wonder how far his heart sunk after he heard that there was a new king that had been born. Did his rage blow out of proportion when he found out people were coming to visit this child? I wonder about him a lot.
A couple days ago, as I reflected on Herod’s life, I read an interesting article about Herod at the end of his life. In this article, the author is interviewing Paul Maier who is the former Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan.
This article shares a lot of great information about Herod the Great. For starters, Maier reminds us that Herod the Great was actually very successful politically. He was the one who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem (which was a big deal for the Israelites), he created a port city named Caesarea that helped bring trade into the area. He gave a facelift to many parts of Jerusalem including building a palace for himself. He built a hippodrome or stadium and a theater, and strongpoints across the land through which he could defend his kingdom. And above all, he kept the peace between Rome and Jerusalem. He was politically very successful.
Side note: if you know anything about Herod the great, you know that he also did a lot of awful things. There are many stories that include death, usually used to keep his power and prestige. But despite these things we still cannot negate that he did really good things for the area.
Despite all of his great accomplishments, the article shares about a historic account of Herod that caught my attention. After all of these great things he accomplished, Herod finds himself awaiting his death. He tries every remedy possible to stop an unending flow of diseases attacking him. Eventually, h reaches a point where he knows that his death is inevitable.
As he comes to terms with this horrible reality, he begins to wonder if anyone will mourn his death. It is in this wondering, that he does something very interesting. He turns to his sister Salome and asks her to arrest all the Jewish leaders in the land and imprison them in the big stadium he had built which sat just below the palace where he was dying. His plan was to have his sister execute all of these Jewish leaders at the exact same time as his death so that there would be thousands weeping when he died.
It feels like a Shakespeare novel, doesn’t it?
This guy who accomplished so many great things begins to worry that no one would recognize the good stuff he did, that people would only remember the bad. In the face of his fear, he decides to go out kicking and screaming by attempting to pull off this huge massacre right before his death.
It is important to note that his plot failed but can you imagine what it must be like knowing that no one will mourn your death? How lonely must that feel? How wretched must you have been? Would you carry any regret or fear about death? How miserable must he have been that he wanted to kill infants in order to protect his power and massacre Jewish leaders so that people would be crying after his death?
Maybe this holiday season, you can relate to the fear that Herod felt as he awaited his death. Perhaps this holiday season as you deal with balancing the stress of work, home, shopping, family, school, and everything you are dealing with, you wonder if your life is even relevant. Do you matter? Does your life make a difference? If you died today, would anyone even mourn your death?
If that is you, I want you to experience the good news that Herod’s fear kept him from experiencing: overwhelming joy found in the presence of Jesus. A joy so big that erases any fear or worry about irrelevancy. A joy so big that causes you to not fear death, because you know it leads to eternal life. A joy so big that reminds you that you do matter, that you are relevant and that this world has no power over you because your life can be flooded with this unending joy. A joy so abundant that you cease to care about what others think of you because when you are wrapped in this joy, nothing else matters.
And do you want to know where this joy comes from? From leaving behind your fears and worries and going towards Jesus. Joy comes from being in a small group. Joy comes from spending time in prayer. Joy comes from spending time with other Christians. Joy comes from doing acts of service for those who are in need of food, clothing and even company. Joy comes from giving your life to Jesus and surrendering your need for power and prestige. Joy, the same overwhelming joy that the wise men find in Jesus, is the same joy that is being offered to you today. The question is whether or not you want it.
Herod was too afraid and never found this joy. Instead he dies in misery and fear. I pray this advent season that we may not be too afraid to leave our fear behind and instead run to Jesus. I know that in doing so, we find overwhelming joy; a joy so grand that it can overcome any fear or worry you carry today.
Let us leave our fear behind and let us be filled with this overwhelming joy this advent season.
Together on the journey,