top of page

Herod: an advent devotional

Stan Key has served for decades as a pastor, missionary, author, and now as OneWay's minister-at-large. He is a longtime friend of the ministry who shares decades of experience and wisdom to encourage and challenge many.

Advent devotional - week 3

Word for the day: HEROD

by Pastor Stan

How Jesus’ birthday became a winter festival honoring Frosty, Rudolph and Santa Claus is a story that baffles the imagination. 

But before you shout, “Let’s put Christ back in Christmas!” let’s pause to look at another character we tend to leave out of the story. I’m talking about King Herod.

We don’t focus much on his order to slaughter all the babies in Bethlehem. And yet Herod is just as much a part of Christmas as is Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds. If we leave him out, we drastically change the meaning of the story. 

Far worse than fictional characters like the Grinch (Dr. Seuss), Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol), or Mr. Potter (It’s a Wonderful Life), Herod is a real villain who inflicted real cruelty on real people.

A painting by Nicolas Poussin in 1628 helps us to grasp the horror of what happened on that tragic day in Bethlehem roughly 2,000 years ago.

Appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar, Herod ruled by usurping the throne that had once belonged to David. His name is synonymous with ruthless policies and murderous cruelty. Paranoid and insecure, he tolerated no rival.

The decision to massacre baby boys in Bethlehem is consistent with other decisions he made, such a murdering his wife, three sons, a mother-in- law, a brother-in-law (who was also the High Priest) and many others. Little wonder that Emperor Augustus said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son (as a Jew, Herod refused to eat pork). 

Herod’s presence strikes a discordant tone in an otherwise tranquil Christmas story.

The image of screaming mothers and babies skewered on Roman spears... well, it tends to dampen the holiday spirit. Most of us prefer a more sanitized version of the story where all is calm and all is bright. We’d rather forget about Herod and his henchmen and get back to our figgy pudding and mistletoe. But if we leave Herod out, we risk missing the whole point of the story! 

Herod helps us to remember that Jesus came into a real world. 

Most celebrations of Christmas promote a sentimental holiday of happy faces enjoying warmth, security and prosperity. When the nativity is portrayed, the straw is always fresh, the barn is warm and disinfected, the shepherds wear clean bath robes, the animals are well behaved and there is certainly no manure in the manger! But Jesus did not come into that kind of a world. 

How it must grieve God’s Spirit that many today have made Jesus’ birthday an occasion to insulate themselves from the sin and suffering that so characterize our world.

Jesus is a real Savior who came into a real world where real people struggle with real evil.

Perhaps it would be better to think of Christmas in terms of the D-day invasion on the beaches of Normandy (June 1944). Christ comes to reconquer the kingdom his enemy has stolen. His arrival means that the battle has already begun! 

Herod helps us to remember that Jesus’ coming exposes sin. 

Bethlehem was a peaceful and happy little village — until Jesus came. His birth caused all hell to break loose! When the lights are turned on in a dark basement, the cockroaches are not happy! The light enables us to see what has been there all along: fungus, mildew, roaches and rats. If Jesus is to save the world, he must first expose the evil that has been lurking in the shadows. Jesus’ birth enabled the world to see the truth about Herod and his kingdom: he was an imposter, a bully and a fraud. 

Herod helps us to remember that Jesus’ coming causes division. 

Even as an infant, before he had preached a sermon, healed a leper or confronted a Pharisee, Jesus was a controversial figure. His coming forced people to choose sides. The magi and the shepherds chose to come and worship.

Herod and his minions chose to come and murder. Simeon stated the matter succinctly to Mary: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed... so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34–35). 

Herod helps us to remember that Jesus’ coming enables us to be overcomers. 

Though there is much about the massacre in Bethlehem that we may never understand, there is one thing that is crystal clear. God saved baby Jesus and his parents from the murderous villain and enabled them to survive and thrive in a world filled with hate.

The dragon does all in his power to destroy Jesus and his followers, but the Lamb wins (see Revelation 12:11)! 

Please don’t think that God was unmindful of those dear mothers who watched as their children were butchered by Herod’s soldiers. God knows what it’s like to lose a son. We can put our full trust in a God like that! 

So in this blessed season, dear friends, be sure to keep HEROD in Christmas. 


bottom of page