After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
When Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him, (Matthew 2:1 – 3 NIV).
I can understand why Herod was unsettled by the news of a rival. If they had to relinquish their thrones, kings much preferred to pick their own successors and make their own succession plans. And yet, here was a delegation from a foreign state come to call on the new king! Of course Herod was disturbed. But why did Herod’s umbrage rock the rest of Jerusalem?
It’s not like Herod enjoyed high favorability ratings. He was hated for pandering to the occupying Romans and heavily taxing the Jews to fund his lavish construction projects. Nor were the Judeans worried that a new administration might take the country in the wrong direction; under Herod, they were well on their way. The reason they were disturbed by the news of a rival king was simply because Herod was disturbed. When despotic rulers eat sour grapes their subject’s teeth are set on edge. The massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem is grim testimony to the well-founded fears of Judah’s citizens.
Perhaps that is one reason God chose to bring the Messiah into the world the way he did. Jesus did not come wearing royal colors and swinging a big stick. He did not kick in the palace doors of Herod or Caesar and announce, “I’m in control now!” He came as a helpless, defenseless baby. His first court was attended by shepherds, sheep and cattle. His first throne was the lap of a young woman married to a confused carpenter.
None of that makes for an intimidating, authoritarian presence. In fact, all of that suggests that this King is not one to be feared or dreaded. Unlike the Herods or Caesars of their time – or ours – when this King comes to his people, he comes to bless, not burden. To save, not subjugate. To acquit, not condemn. Jesus comes gently. Even humbly. He leaves it to us to surround him with praise and exalt him with honor.
As we gather for Sunday church this week – this season – let us, then, give him our best and highest praise.