“When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’ (Matthew 2:4-6)
Examine, if you will, the high level of expectation. Herod knew something was about to happen!
So he called together a bunch of armchair experts and asked them. And they knew too! They knew that it was going to happen any time soon.
And they even knew the town where it would all kick off.
The expectation was high and their information was pretty good.
The trouble was, it was the wrong expectation. Everyone was anticipating Messiah like a kind of military superstar. Someone who could live up to that tagline at the bottom of the Gladiator posters that said “A Hero will arise.” They were expecting that powerful, dominating figure to burst into the saloon and sort out the bad guys.
No wonder Herod was worried. No wonder he sent a detachment of soldiers to kill all the babies in Bethlehem. He acted upon a wrong assumption
And it’s an assumption to think that we have God all figured out. We easily miss God’s point.
In fact, as someone said, if it turns out that your God hates all the people you do, you’re probably laboring under a false idea of God. If you think God is a bigot, that’s probably you.
But the prophecy, you say: the prophecy said that a “ruler” would emerge and “shepherd my people Israel.”
Of course, when Herod came to define the word “ruler” he imagined someone sort of like himself: a petty despot, drunk on power, greedy, grasping and violent.
But the key word here is “shepherd.” Shepherds don’t operate like that. There’s a duty of care, a gentleness of approach, an authority of voice and call.
The other key term is “my people Israel.”
The assumption here was that the Messiah would be a superbly dedicated patriot, that would stand for a particular nation state and fight for its top billing.
But that was never the case.”The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” (Deut 7:7)
It was always a matter of quality of relationship and not quantity of status. It was always relational, always loving and close. I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.” (Jer 3:19). I looked forward to parenting you, but you wouldn’t have it.
“Israel” was always a matter of relationship. So if you turn away from following, are you still following?
Jesus came to do just thsat. He stood as the perfect representative of the People of God: “I have come to do your will.” Perfectly, completely …. but unexpectedly.
The whole story of Christmas is topsy turvy, unexpected, upside-down. The King is born like a peasant. Splendour is wrapped in poverty. Authority and power come disguised as vulnerability and weakness.
No wonder Herod missed the point.
Don’t you do so too.