Christianity 201

December 27, 2018

Herod and a Ruined Christmas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

You may have the kind of Christmas that is not Christmas-card-perfect. There are a great many things that can be the “ruin” of Christmas. We fret over things like finding that perfect gift, or having the perfect family gathering around the perfect Christmas dinner enjoying perfect relationships. Reality may stay from those ideals. For others, Christmas is ruined by grief. There is one less setting at the table. Christmas may not be Christmas-card-perfect for you this year.

You would not be the first to have a ruined Christmas. Herod ruins a perfect first Christmas for Mary, Joseph, and many others as we discover from a Bible passage we often associate with Christmas:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16–18 NRSV)*

Christmas is ruined. However, was it even a Christmas-card-perfect Christmas before Herod’s killing spree? Rumours would have been swirling about Mary and the legitimacy of this child. Remember that Jospeh needed an angel visitation to be convinced. Bethlehem was an ancestral home, but Mary and Joseph were hardly home for the holidays. There was no room at the inn. There was no family gathering, in fact the first to show up were complete strangers. Meanwhile Mary and Joseph were bringing a child into a rather unsettled world. Roman power is in the background, indeed it is why they end up in Bethlehem. When Rome spoke, Jews jumped. At least, according to the Romans. Jewish people-power is in the foreground. Herod was stuck between Roman leaders, for the Romans said he could be king, and the Jewish people, many of whom were saying he ought not to be king. These were dangerous times and revolution hung in the air. Thanks to Herod the Christmas story ends with Mary and Joseph forced to flee to Egypt as refugees with their baby. Thanks to Herod the Christmas story ends with the grief of many mums and dads who lost their babies. The first Christmas was anything but Christmas-card-perfect. Herod made sure of that.

How do you define the perfect Christmas? Is it the perfect family with perfect people with perfect lives gathering for the perfect dinner, carrying out the the perfect family traditions, enjoying perfect Christmas baking while opening perfect Christmas gifts fetched from under a perfectly decorated tree? A lot of that stuff doesn’t happen for a lot of people at all, never mind perfectly. For some people, “Merry Christmas” is met with “I think I’d rather give it a pass this year.” For many people Christmas is a hot mess. Life itself just gets too messy for Christmas.

What really makes for the perfect Christmas? Christmas is not the celebration of sentimental moments that are free of mess. Christmas is the celebration of the moment God stepped into our mess. Every year around Christmas we mention Herod. Herod reminds us of the mess God stepped into through Jesus. So if your Christmas is messy and less that Christmas-card-perfect, celebrate God who steps into our mess. Let’s focus, not on the celebrations themselves, but on Him Whom we celebrate.

Herod ruined Christmas for himself. Look again at Herod. How was his first Christmas? Herod was self-focused. Herod was paranoid of losing a throne he did not belong on. Indeed historians tell us that Herod was so paranoid he had his favourite wife and some of his own children killed. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Herod was troubled by the news from the magi and indeed sought to destroy the one “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). Herod knew he was king of the Jews thanks to Roman benevolence, but not by birth. It is no surprise that such a self focused person as Herod would have trouble celebrating the birth of Jesus. Nothing ruins Christmas like a focus on oneself, and one’s own power. Such a self-focus causes us to reject, rather than celebrate, Jesus.

God stepped into a messy world that first Christmas. But Herod was too self-focused to notice. God steps into our mess, but if we insist on being front and centre, if we insist on being the hero of our story, we won’t notice. We try to be the hero when we try to fix every problem. We try to be the hero when we act as if life can go on without God in it. We put ourselves front and centre by trying to put God in our debt, as if He owes us something. When we think of Santa Claus, we may think we are owed not a lump of coal, but a good gift, for we have not been naughty, but nice. However, the original Saint Nicholas gave gifts, not because he owed the help to anyone but because people needed help. His inspiration was Jesus. God will never be in our debt, but He will give us the gift of eternal life, not because we are owed it, but because we are in need of reconciliation with Him. Christmas could have turned out very differently for Herod had he thought about himself less, and thought about God more.

If we are really focused on the birth of Jesus, rather than on the celebrations themselves, or on ourselves, then Christmas can never be ruined. No one can ever take away God’s Christmas gift to us.


*The magi were most likely not included in the manger scene we envision in Christmas scenes. They likely arrived later. However, they are very much part of Jesus’ infancy so we traditionally associate them with Christmas.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

February 13, 2014

The Bible’s Undercurrent of Tainted Love: A Valentine’s Devotional

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:53 pm
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valentineheart

Back in June we introduced you to Scripture4You and while we normally wait a year before revisiting a blog, I decided we’d jump start this return visit with a post relating to Valentine’s Day. Scripture4You takes a poetic approach to three daily scripture passages combined with kaleidoscopic images. After you’re done with today’s reading, click the banner at the top of the blog and then look around. This reading is titled Tainted Love. (If you don’t have a Catholic Bible nearby, I’ve linked both the first, a reference from the book of Sirach, and the other two references.)

~~~ Sirach 47:2-11 ~~~ Psalm 18 ~~~ Mark 6:14-29 ~~~

This is February, the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day…
the month dedicated to love.
Oddly enough according to those who keep wedding statistics
June is the most popular month for weddings.

The first reading lists all of the wonderful things David did;
making him one of the most loved leaders.
He tackled beast and man.
He slew the giant with a slingshot.
He was favored by God…God loved him.
The women sang his praises; in other words they loved him.
David did love God too.
With his whole being he loved his Maker
and daily had his praises sung;
What is not to love about David…he sings to the Lord in prayer.

The LORD forgave him his sins
and exalted his strength forever…
Love was the driving force for all that David
did for his people and his God.
This deep love made his personal failings that much more painful for him.

The gospel has an undercurrent of tainted love…
love that has gone sour…
love that has broken hearts…
love that has turned to taking another’s life.

Herod is so confused by his sin
that he cannot identify the beautiful qualities of love.
His sinful love affair leads him to the brutal sin of murder.

Love never leads one into sin.
Herod does not even demonstrate healthy love with his daughter.
The mother daughter relationship is warped.
The daughter is willing to entertain her mother’s revengeful heart.
She went out and said to her mother,
“What shall I ask for?”
Her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

Herod expressed his love by ordering
the beheading of someone he respected, John the Baptist.
He gave the head of John to the girl.
The girl gave the head to her mother.
This evil domino effect takes precedence over love.

God always blesses us with love.
What do we offer in return to him?
How do you love others?
Peace.