By Pastor April, Delivered December 26, 2010 It’s good to be with you here on this day after Christmas – I hope you all have a wonderful holiday so far and continue to have a wonderful holiday as many of you are on vacation and taking time away from work.
Now, initially when I had the idea to talk about King Herod on this Sunday and the topic of anger – I thought, you know that might be a bit out of place in this season where we are supposed to be talking about baby Jesus and the joy that he brings… and then I thought a little more about it – and I thought – when are the times of year where I have had the tendency to get angry? Well, they tend to be times where there is a lot going on, extra stress sometimes from family, and where I have a lot of expectations about how things are supposed to go. My family can probably tell you a lot of embarrassing stories of the times that I have lost my cool over the holidays - And then I thought, well maybe Christmas time is exactly the right time to talk about anger.
So, I want to give you a bit of background on King Herod – we kind of typify him at Christmas time as this evil king who went around trying to kill people – and that’s not entirely untrue, but to understand Herod and the things he does we have to know a bit more about him. Herod came into power in the year 37 BCE. His father was a military ruler in the Roman Empire
And so he grew up in social gatherings with the upper class of the Roman Empire and somewhere around the year 40 BCE, Herod is asked to go to Galilee and deal with an uprising that had happened in the area. And so, Herod, young and eager to prove himself goes to Galilee and with great force and violence quells this uprising very quickly. And the Empire takes note of this. Herod is promoted and then in the year 37 BCE, he is, at a very young age, promoted to King of Judea. Now, at the time – this area of the empire was considered a backwater kind of community –But Herod comes to this region and by sheer force and will, begins undertaking one of the most prolific series of building projects in the history of the Roman empire. He builds up and rebuilds a number of cities, including the port city of Caesarea, he expands the Jewish temple in Jerusalem to become the largest temple in the world, and he constructs significant monuments and temples in honor of Emperor Augustus. Now, he does this through terrible taxation and brute force – but from the perspective of Rome, he is a tremendous success. He takes this backwater region where people really didn’t want to set foot in, and makes it into a progressive cultural reality – a place where the dignitaries wanted to visit – a place on the move. Herod has built quite a name for himself.
And so this story that we read today, the story of the wise men and the story of Herod’s response is coming at the end of Herod’s career. He has been in power for over 30 years. He is well-established as the King of Judea by this time. His place in history is secure… or so he thinks.
v. 3 – earlier in chapter two, Matthew tells us that King Herod when he heard this – he was frightened –
And so out of this place of fear, he tries to find out where this newborn king will be – but the wise men deceive him and when he finds out – he is infuriated. He is so filled with rage – that he does the unthinkable – he sets out to kill all the children under the age of 2 in the region of Bethlehem.
His anger was so great, that he was able to justify this action in order to preserve his status.
Now, I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that any of us are in a place of equivalence to King Herod. He was a man of great wickedness. But if I am being entirely honest, there are moments, where I see in myself – a glimpse of King Herod. Moments where I see a very ugly, very self-absorbed, very hateful, angry part of myself – and I know that if I were to feed that part of myself, to let it grow, to let it become a larger part of me – it could be a terrible thing.
This topic of anger has become more relevant to me this year than probably any other year. 2010 has been a great year for our family, but it has also been a year of great change. In the midst of the change our family has experienced in 2010 , I have found myself more irritable and easily stirred to anger. There was a moment a couple of weeks ago, when in the middle of the night – I was woken up by my son Marcus – it was probably 2:30 in the morning or so. And I was so tired. It had been an incredibly long week and I hadn’t gotten much sleep. And as I got up to go take care of feeding Marcus, I looked over at my husband who was somehow managing to sleep peacefully through this entire ordeal. And something about seeing him sleeping so peacefully while I was up AGAIN and not getting sleep AGAIN – filled me with such anger and rage that before long my blood was pumping and I was thinking terribly irrational thoughts about what exactly I’d like to do and say to this sleeping beauty here who could just sleep through the entire ordeal. The next morning I found myself being short and rude to my husband – still mad at him from the night before. And poor guy – he was confused at what he had done wrong. It took me until the end of the next day to begin to settle down and even be able to have a calm conversation with my husband and with myself.
I don’t think I am the only person to ever experience this - Even in very ordinary circumstances, anger can sneak in and overtake our emotions. And when it does we are often capable of saying very hurtful things, doing things we wouldn’t normally do.
I saw a glimpse of King Herod in myself in the middle of the night that evening – and frankly it scared me. Allowing that anger to get the best of me meant that I was robbed of joy and I did damage to one of the most important relationships in my life.
So, what are we to do with this anger? All of us experience it from time to time, some situations are worse than others. But we’ve all been there. And it doesn’t ever help to just dismiss it. Have you ever told someone to “calm down” when they are fiercely angry? It usually just accelerates their anger. We need to pay attention to our anger…
In my experience, and in my conversations with others, the most important thing we can do is to try to understand where the anger comes from – to take a good look in the mirror and try to acknowledge that this emotion we are feeling is telling us something important – something that we need to deal with.
In the case of King Herod, we had a great discussion on Tuesday at bible study about what might have been behind Herod’s violent reaction. And it seemed clear to us that Herod was deeply afraid, he was afraid of losing his status, he was afraid of losing the power and esteem he had built up for himself.
Sometimes our anger comes out of a place of hurt and woundedness. One person at bible study remembered a time where she was so angry at her daughter because she had lied to her. The hurt of this lie was so painful that she said things that she later regretted.
Sometimes our anger comes because we are feeling insecure about our own lives – this is often the case with the situations involving bullying. We feel insecure about our own identity and so we try to make others feel bad about themselves.
And sometimes, as was the case with me after some reflection, we are experiencing a loss of control – There were more and more factors in my life that I had no control over and instead of dealing with the way that made me feel, I was lashing out at people who I cared about.
It’s hard work to sometimes take the time we need to get to the bottom of our anger. We have to be willing to be honest with ourselves, with others, and with God. And that’s a place of vulnerability that can be scary. We might need to ask others for help. It can take days, weeks, months, and sometimes years – but I think it’s the only real way to be able to move beyond it, to be able to stop allowing it to control us, to begin to move toward healing. It wasn’t until a week later after my outburst that I was finally able to understand what I was feeling – I was in a conversation with trusted friends who loved me – and their encouragement and support helped me to begin to name what I was feeling and where it was coming from. And for the first time all week, I started to feel better.
At Christmastime, we celebrate the coming of Christ into the world, the very God in our midst – but we don’t just celebrate an event that happened way back when, we are celebrating something that happens all the time, every day, every moment – Christ is coming into the world in new ways – bringing us peace, hope, and renewing us and making us whole.
And years ago in Bethlehem, King Herod missed it. He was so wrapped up in his own world, in his own power and status, in his own self-preservation – and anger and violence – that he totally missed it.
This Christmas, my prayer has been to God – I don’t want to see a glimpse of King Herod in me. I don’t want to let one ounce of my own anger rob me of the joy of your presence. I don’t want to let one ounce of anger get in the way of the relationships I have with the people I love. I don’t want to let one ounce of anger, keep me from experiencing your coming into the world during this season and all seasons – don’t let me miss it. Please Lord, help me to understand my emotions and to talk to you about them so that I don’t miss out on all the blessings you are pouring out in this season.