“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.”
Most of us are familiar with the tradition of children’s Christmas pageants during the holidays. We chuckle at little shepherds wrapped in bedsheets and burlap, at pint-sized angels with tinfoil halos waving to their parents in the congregation as they sing their glorias and alleluias. We appreciate their innocence. There’s always a feeling that’s hard to name when we walk into our sanctuaries to see a lowly stable and some hay covering up the pulpit and a first-grader announcing to us that she is bringing good news of great joy!
There’s a reason, beyond the cute photo opportunities, that we have children perform this yearly ritual. There is something important about having these smallest members of our community recreate the really big announcement.
Herod was certainly not among the “smallest” of his community; in fact, he was at the top of the heap. One can imagine that he was none too pleased about being out of the loop when strangers from another land came looking for the king of the Jews—and they didn’t mean him. How could it be that these foreigners had information—important political information—that he didn’t have?
So Herod pulled together his advisors and mulled over this prophecy of one who would become ruler of the people. He grilled the magi for details and lied to them that he wanted to pay his respects to this special child too. Herod would not tolerate being out of the loop any longer; he wanted to be in control. And he wanted all this nonsense to stop.
Unfortunately for Herod, these interesting strangers from another land were not the only ones who knew about the new king. According to Luke’s account, a host of angels had declared the birth of the Messiah to a bunch of sheepherders out in the fields. These folks weren’t the most powerful or prominent people of their society. They were simply attending to their duty to keep the flocks safe when the message from on high was given to them. The shepherds, in turn, did not keep this news to themselves. How could they, after what they had seen and heard?
Herod could not stamp out the fire of this message. He could not control it. He could not manipulate it to his liking. Something new and powerful was breaking in, and breaking into the strangest places. Despite his efforts, he could not stop it. Mary anticipated as much in her song of praise to the Lord, proclaiming that the powerful would be brought down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up (Luke 1:52). Even in his fear, however, Herod did not think big enough. Certainly, this new king was a threat to his power, but even Herod could not anticipate that this child’s reign would be greater than his throne, greater than wealth, and greater than any boundary lines. A new kind of kingdom was coming; a kingdom where Herod’s kind of power and influence would be diminished.
All this excitement and worry over a child—a baby born into a bed of straw. The little children who announce the good news to us during those special Christmas services are appropriate messengers. They prepare us well for the new way of Jesus. They remind us that the forgotten, the weak, the vulnerable, and the stranger will play a big role in a new kingdom. They remind us of the unusual places and people God chooses to use in our story of salvation. They remind us that God’s expectations often run counter to ours.
Through the voices of little children, we learn that a new way is coming—indeed, that it is already here.