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Absent at Advent: How We Miss God’s Arrival

This Christmas, as images of wise men and shepherds, and Mary and Joseph and animals and baby Jesus cover our refrigerators with all the familiar greetings of the season, what strikes me is all the people who aren’t part of the Christmas Story.

No doubt you’ve heard sermons on the unlikely cast of characters who found themselves in the thick of God’s arrival on earth. Lowly shepherds who were serenaded by angels, wise men from faraway lands, and, of course, young Joseph, and his pregnant-out-of-wedlock wife, Mary.

But what about all those who weren’t there but could have been or maybe should have been?

The real mystery of the first Christmas is how people who were longing, praying, hoping, looking for the Messiah missed Him.

Top on the list for me is Herod. Here’s a guy who hears about the star and all the prophecies about where the Messiah was to be born and yet instead of being remotely glad becomes insanely insecure…and then brutally murderous.

So, who was Herod?

  1. His father was a weak, but brilliantly manipulative king and high priest

  2. When his brother took power from him, he eventually sought help from Rome, the rising power in the East. Each Roman leader—culminating with the great Julius Caesar—gave Herod’s father the sacred and respected role among Jews as High Priest.

  3. As part of his father’s ambitious plans, Herod was made governor of Galilee at only 25.

  4. Herod impressed Roman rulers with the way he collected taxes and suppressed revolts—two things Rome valued highly.

  5. When Cassius and Brutus murdered Julius Caesar, they allied with Herod, giving him a larger governorship, knowing that he could generate revenue for them until they killed Antony and Octavian. But when Cassius was defeated by Antony, Herod aligned himself with Antony and Octavian, instead, allowing them and the Roman senate to anoint him “King of Judea”.

  6. Through a strategic marriage and a display of brutal betrayals and murders, Herod finally became “King of the Jews”.

  7. During the later period of his reign, around the time of Christ's birth, Herod wrote 6 wills, changing the succession plan. He had 10 wives who each had sons that they wanted to be the next King, but Herod was determined to script the outcome.

To Herod, control was everything.

Herod was a scheming, ambitious man, who, upon gaining power, became insecure, angry, and vengeful. He lived by the sword and was afraid of dying by the sword.

Herod was absent at Advent because he was too afraid of losing control.

It wasn’t that Herod somehow missed the memo that the Messiah was born. In fact, it was precisely because Herod suspected that the Messiah had come that he acted the way he did: deceitful and murderous. Herod had manipulated people and situations, sold out friends and relatives, used his own marriage to his own political ends all to become the “King of the Jews”. He wasn’t about to let some newborn baby undo all of it.

So, here’s the question for us: Are we too in love with being in control that we might miss what God is doing right under our noses?

The other night, our two girls, Sophia (3) and Norah (2), somehow ended up in our bed right around midnight. It was fun for the first 10 minutes, but then I was ready to go to sleep. But I was too tired too really do anything about it…and Holly wasn’t moving either! As I lay there half-asleep, wrestling with whether or not to strong-arm the kids and restore control in our house, I heard Sophia whisper to Norah, “Love you, Norah.” “Luvoo Fia,” came the reply. Tears welled up in my eyes. It was the most beautiful little scene. Surely God was in this place…and I almost missed it!

Then the girls started tickling each other, and screaming and giggling, and eventually I needed to get Norah back to her crib. But what if I had reached for control sooner? I might have missed a little piece of God’s activity.

Advent is the season where we remember Christ coming to earth. But Advent happens all around us. God is coming to us in little smiles and heartfelt hugs, in needy families and single mothers. All around us are signs of God’s arrival. But we could miss it if we cling too tightly to control.

In a way, Herod got it right: the real King had arrived, and He had every intention of dethroning Herod. God has come, and He has come to rule our hearts, to take control. But every time we cling to control and close our fists or shut our eyes or withhold love when we have the chance to freely give, we will miss what God is doing in the earth, miss His very arrival on the scenes of our lives. We will be absent at Advent.

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