Alert systems are put in place to give warnings. In the wake of 9/11 the newly formed Department of Homeland Security instituted a five-level terror advisory scale: low, guarded, elevated, high, and severe. Because that system proved to not be helpful, the scale was modified to just two levels: elevated, which warns of a credible terrorist threat, and imminent, which warns of a credible, specific, and impending terrorist threat. The alert system is the government’s effort to inform the public so they can be prepared mentally, and if in close enough proximity to a particularly at-risk location, take protective measures. If the security barrier has been penetrated by an outside threat the authorities and citizens want to know so they can take appropriate action.
Christmas is an imminent threat, a a code red alert. The secured perimeter of this old world has been penetrated by an outsider who has entered with the intent of overthrowing the existing powers.
No wonder Herod did what he did in Matthew 2:1-18. When he heard about the presence of this intruder (Mt. 2:1-2) he set a plan in motion (Mt. 2: 3-8) with the intent of eliminating the threat altogether (Mt. 2:13). When the wise men didn’t come through on their end of the deal (Mt. 2:12), Herod modified his plan accordingly (Mt. 2:16), resulting in the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” In defiance of the fact that this was the Child to be born upon whose shoulders the never-ending government would rest, Herod proceeded to move against what the zeal of the Lord was performing, and he failed, leaving behind nothing but futile mayhem, murder, and mourning.
As awful as that was, frankly, Herod did what the natural instinct of any of us is when we feel threatened: protect what is ours. A newborn “King of the Jews” was most certainly a threat to the existing king of the Jews. Of course, the twist to this story is that the existing power, namely Herod, was evil, and the intruder, the newborn Jesus Christ, was good. Christmas is a threat to evil.
Herod’s emotions, thoughts, and actions graphically illustrate Psalm 2, along with the response of the Lord God of heaven (from The Message):
Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth-leaders push for position,
Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks,
The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers:
“Let’s get free of God!
Cast loose from Messiah!”
The response of God to these defiant worldly, all-mighty, all-important, self-glorifying, God-rejecting authorities is laughter; not the laughter of mere amusement, but that of mockery. Here’s what the psalmist declares:
Heaven-throned God breaks out laughing.
At first he’s amused at their presumption;
Then he gets good and angry.
Furiously, he shuts them up:
“Don’t you know there’s a King in Zion? A coronation banquet
Is spread for him on the holy summit.”
Incredulous laughter. The thought of any mere human authority challenging God is absurd. Can you hear the laughter? It doesn’t sound like the earth-shaking thunder at Mt. Sinai. No, this time it sounds like the gurgles and cries of a baby.
Let me tell you what God said next.
He said, “You’re my son,
And today is your birthday.
What do you want? Name it:
Nations as a present? continents as a prize?
You can command them all to dance for you,
Or throw them out with tomorrow’s trash.”
What might seem like the humiliation of God was actually a taunt to the superpowers of this world. They shake their money-filled, sword-wielding, army-commanding, middle-finger-extending fists at God, and He answers with a baby, and in doing so shows that “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Look at that baby in the manger who can’t even talk. Look at the shrouded, lifeless corpse lying in a tomb. That’s the Savior of the world! That’s the Sovereign of the universe.
While Herod didn’t know the name of this newborn baby whose birth in Bethlehem had been foretold, he was smart enough to realize that this “king of the Jews” was a threat to his power, his kingdom, and his glory. This Child had intruded into his domain, breached his security and must be eliminated. No outsider was going to take away his throne.
Christmas, the celebration of the first arrival of Jesus, is a shot across the bow of the ship piloted by this world’s authorities declaring, “Surrender or die!” Jesus came the first time in mercy, offering forgiveness and everlasting life to all who will believe. The days of this world’s empires, all of them including the American empire, are numbered. When He returns, they’re done. It won’t even be a contest. All it will take is a word.
Christmas is a sober reminder that Jesus lays claim to this planet and everything in it – its land masses, its resources, and its people. That includes every nation and every person in every nation. Everything and everyone is His and He will take what is His. The Father said it’s His. He made it. He redeemed it. There is a second Advent and it is imminent. What Jesus demands is repentance and faith. A person can bow now in the trusting surrender of love and adoration or they’ll bow then in vanquished, doomed terror.
So, rebel-kings, use your heads;
Upstart-judges, learn your lesson:
Worship God in adoring embrace,
Celebrate in trembling awe. Kiss Messiah!
Your very lives are in danger, you know;
His anger is about to explode,
But if you make a run for God—you won’t regret it!
Christmas is a Code Red warning. Think of that every time you see a blinking red light this season. You’ve been warned.