REAL Christmas: The REST of the Story of Fear, Flight, and Faith

Ok, you’ve unwrapped presents, and it’s now 364 days until Christmas. But I (for one) am not ready to leave Christmas behind just yet, so let’s think about the real details of the first Christmas! Now that you have celebrated the Nativity scene, considered the angels’ announcement, and anticipated the birth of Jesus, it is time to think about what Christmas was all about for Mary and Joseph. Yes, there were the messengers who came, but there was more to come from his time in Bethlehem than the stable and the manger.
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:12-15, NIV).

A Very Creepy Christmas

The Christmas story doesn’t end with the Nativity. It begins there. For Joseph and Mary, it meant a hasty departure under cover of darkness to a strange land. It meant hard travel in open country with a young mother and an infant whom Herod was seeking to kill…

Come to think of it, it had to be a scary trip, maybe the scariest family road trip experience of all time. Yes, there was an aging and jealous king trying to eliminate a potential threat to his throne, but it wasn’t just Herod who wanted the baby dead. Paul reminded us in Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…”

Christmas

It wasn’t just Herod. I would imagine that every dark power in this world had to be uneasy, sensing this sudden goodness which was now present on planet earth. Surely every evil force could feel a shudder of its own death knell. Minions stirred blindly and restlessly, reacting with vague disquiet as they sensed God’s work in the world. Against a creepier background than any horror film could conjure up, Joseph took his little family in the dead of night and set out for Egypt.

Spiritual War

Behind the holy family, Bethlehem was about to experience the slaughter of the innocents; before them lay a long and uncertain journey to Egypt. Satan has never been omniscient, or surely he would have known who this baby was in advance, and ended the Christmas story at the manger… But the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of evil.

Undoubtedly, throughout the millennia Satan had anticipating the arrival of a coming king, and was ready to do battle with God’s royal emissary and savior. Perhaps, like the Pharisees, he was looking for a majestic, powerful king who would come heralded in glory, ready to fight the Romans. After all, that was how power asserted itself in his domain, so the logical thing would be to sow corruption and evil wherever men wielded it.

Start At The Top

Satan certainly worked hard in the courts of both Judean kings and Roman emperors (and most royal houses throughout history), using ego and treachery to corrupt and contaminate almost everyone who attained a position of strength. Winston Churchill, who was a pretty astute chronicler of history, said “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The devil has been pretty effective at corrupting leaders (he’s still doing it today, even in our hallowed Republic), but Satan did not foresee God’s unusual plan. God chose weakness to confound strength. He heralded not a military kingdom but a spiritual one. Against all logic, He sent humility to oppose power. God chose a frail baby in all humility to end an evil empire based on selfishness and pride; and He sent Jesus to begin a new kingdom based on peace and love. And guess where it starts, the week after Christmas? Look no further than your own heart…

Just like the Holy family, you too are on a journey facing uncertainty and choices. There is a selfish, grasping evil that wants you to fail; yet there is a humble, loving Savior who wants you to succeed. As you consider Christmas and all that really happened around the birth of Christ, remember why he came! The person to whom it matters the most today is YOU.

Christmas Mayhem

Forced to flee in the dead of night,
Joseph had disturbing dreams
Which warned him that they must take flight
From Herod’s mad and murderous schemes.
Commanded by his jealous word,
Assassins through their village crept,
And performed their duties undeterred
As mothers wailed and fathers wept.

But Herod’s minions missed the mark,
As Joseph took his wife and infant son
Traveling hard to safety in the dark:
Their long and dangerous journey had begun.
And every evil power on this earth
Was restless as it sensed this new-born king,
Uneasy since the announcement and the birth,
Uncertain of the changes it would bring.
The powers of darkness felt the child’s great good,
Felt the Spirit around him as it flowed,
And stirred to end this danger, if they could,
From the family alone, out on the open road…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Real Intrigue and Danger, Real People: The Ingredients of the Real Christmas

There are some very interesting details in the Gospel accounts about events behind the Real Christmas. You may be so familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth that you haven’t noticed, but if you dive into those events, you’ll gain a new perspective on the nativity, and find some Christmas treasure worth seeking.

“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 when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him…” (Matthew 2:1-3, NIV)

So, Why Were People Disturbed?

The Magi, who studied the heavens and knew something about the arrival of a new king of the Jews, came “from the east” to find out about this new-born king… Naturally they went first to the current king in Jerusalem, Herod the Great. He was a king who had an impressive resume as an architect and builder. But he was a cruel man who was known for levying high taxes and pushing to complete his projects. He built a fabulous temple (in addition fortresses, the Port of Caesarea, and many other impressive architectural achievements). When the Magi arrived, Herod was in perhaps the last year of his reign, dying from gonorrhea and possibly cancer.

Herod may have been ill, but he was still a powerful man who guarded his throne with ruthless determination. He is known for his impressive accomplishments as a builder, and his engineering and architectural accomplishments can still be seen today at Caesarea, Masada, and Jerusalem. They are why he still known as “Herod the Great”.

real fortress

He had a long, tumultuous reign filled with treachery and murder. Herod not only executed his wife, Miriamne, but her mother Alexandra as well. He had two of his brothers-in-law killed, and also executed his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus for treason. He was so jealous of his throne that at one point it prompted Augustus to say, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son” (a reference to the play on words between “pig” and “son” and the fact that the pig had a better chance for survival than a son, since Herod’s household didn’t eat pork).

Unintended Consequences

Matthew’s description of Herod’s reaction to the Magi is intriguing. While there is much to explore about the Magi, it is also interesting to take a closer look at Herod’s role in the nativity. After all, he was at least partly responsible for sending them to Jesus. “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Herod is a somewhat forgotten part of this nativity, but he certainly played a significant role in the birth and early life of Jesus. Matthew says in verse 3 that when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” It might make sense that Herod was troubled—he guarded his throne zealously, and certainly did not enjoy having other aspiring kings around. But why was all Jerusalem troubled with him?

More Than Meets the Eye

Dr. Duane Edward Spencer taught that Herod was a cruel ruler who was not exactly beloved in Jerusalem. He was indeed a great builder, but along with the glorious temple, his port city of Caesarea, and his fortresses came slave labor and high taxes. The fact that the city was disturbed along with him at the approach of these men suggested a somewhat larger and more capable party than three men on camels. More likely it was a troop of famed Persian cavalry. It makes sense, since a few men carrying valuable gifts would have been easy prey for robbers. Besides, three guys on camels probably wouldn’t make a city tremble.

This is a real story about real people. It makes sense that men of this stature would not travel without protection. It is also reasonable that Herod and people in Jerusalem would all have their own interpretation of events. Herod tried to twist the Magi to his own ends, asking them to go find this newborn king so he could “worship him”. Like many real politicians before and since, Herod was lying about his true intent. He was a paranoid ruler who was constantly involved in intrigue and questionable choices. (And, if you look at his devious and murderous intentions here, a Herod played a role in both Jesus’ birth and in his death.)

More Than One Herod

Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, carried on the family tradition of making poor choices by marrying his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. She was the one whose daughter danced provocatively for him and then demanded the head of John the Baptist. Definitely soap opera material… Herod Antipas is the same guy who wanted Jesus to perform for him, and who sent him back to Pilate after a very cursory “trial”. But, back at the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find Jesus and report back to him. When they didn’t bring him a report, he reacted by doing something that followed his reputation down the corridors of time.

real danger

He killed all the male children in the area around Bethlehem two years of age and under. While he missed Jesus, his cruelty touched many other lives. His action has always been known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” While scholars have not found a direct reference to this act outside of the Bible, it is certainly in keeping with Herod’s character. He was a man so jealous of his throne that he killed his own mother-in-law, two sons, and his wife Miriamne, just to mention a few.

Critics say there is no historical reference to the “Slaughter of the Innocents”, although it was mentioned by pagan writer Macrobius in 400 AD. Perhaps killing little boys affected so few people in such an obscure village that historians did not find it newsworthy at the time. Or, they may have edited that action out of Herod’s biography to make him look a little better. Suffice it to say that executing a few little boys would not have bothered Herod in the least, and it was certainly consistent with his character.

As far as we know, Herod didn’t live long after he tried to erase Jesus as a threat, which was a good thing. A jealous, paranoid ruler like Herod had a long memory, and would have certainly reacted to terminate Jesus’ ministry faster than his son Antipas did. Herod’s demise allowed time for Jesus to establish his ministry, call his disciples, and execute his plan. And a of Herod’s paranoia, jealousy and intrigue did not prevent the Son of God from doing what he came to do when the time was right. Real people. Real events. Know your history: Jesus was really actually part of it.

Real History. Real Talk.

The Holidays are twinkling lights
And carolers on snowy nights,
Our Christmas movies on TV and presents underneath the tree.
We think of things we love so much–
The Christmas tree, the gifts and such,
And little children’s shining eyes with every Santa Claus surprise!
But don’t forget, when both your stockings and your hearts are filled,
The boys in Bethlehem, and the evil king who had them killed.
Traditions are nice, and so are the things we feel–
But don’t forget. Yeah, Christmas just got real.

To buy my book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread