One of the more notable features of the life of our Lord, as recorded in Scripture, is the fact that references to the outside world are overwhelmingly political. When Jesus was born, Augustus was Caesar (Luke 2:1) and Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). Herod the Great was ruler in Judea (Luke 1:5), and wielded his power to the grief of many mothers in Bethlehem. Tiberius was Caesar when John the Baptist began His ministry (Luke 3:1-2), and Luke includes a number of interesting names when he dates the arrival of the forerunner of the Messiah. Tiberius was still emperor when Jesus died, and this political orientation is sealed by the fact that Pontius Pilate was included in the Apostles Creed.
The New Testament is silent when it comes to the other outside celebrities. We are told very little about their poets, their actors, their singers. We know little of their architects from the pages of the New Testament, even though they had magnificent architects. No, Scripture focuses on the political rulers, and this is because it is where the fundamental challenge was mounted.
If we may speak so, Herod was a prophetic unbeliever, a man of despotic insight. He learned from the magi that a King was born among the Jews, and consulted with his scribes on the assumption that this was the Christ (Matt. 2:1-2). The magi simply saw a king—a scepter would arise in Israel, and a star would rise in Jacob (Num. 24:17). They took the revelation they had been given with simple delight, and brought treasures to the young king. But Herod, the moment he heard of it, knew that he was dealing with a rival, and he acted accordingly.
He was wrong in the side he chose, but he was not wrong in the facts of the case. Jesus saw Himself as a rival to the world’s way of running things. He would not receive the kingdoms of the earth from the devil’s hand, and He refused because He intended to be Messiah the Prince, the Prince of His Father, and not the prince of the dark archon. And He was a rival to every form of ungodly rule from the first moment He took breath. Though we call it a silent night, this suckling child was actually the deafening shout of God’s defiance. The principalities and powers, the thrones and dominations, were all going to come to nothing.
And so He was born in our midst, Immanuel, God with us, the one who was to become King of all kings, and Lord of all lords.
When Jesus assumed human nature, He did so first as a single cell. The eternal Word of the eternal Father, the one who spoke the heavens and earth into existence, took on a body that was the size of the period at the end of this sentence. His intent was to redeem every aspect of human existence, and so He did it by assuming it all. He was a baby, a toddler, a young boy, a teenager, and a man. He did all this as a way of receiving us back into fellowship with Him. He was redeeming what He was taking on. He was taking on human nature, and so it was that He was redeeming human nature. When He saves us, He receives us. But as a result, when He saves us, we receive Him.
And when we receive what He assumed to Himself, which was a mortal body, we are in fact receiving a cosmos remade. There is no way to receive the child in the manger without receiving what that child was given, which is all rule and authority, dominion and power, world without end.
This leaves us with a choice. If we receive Him, we are also receiving what He received. When we welcome this child, we of necessity must welcome the children. There is no way to welcome the Lord without also welcoming His dominion.
And this is why the perennial, constant choice is always between Christ and Herod. Either the children are brought to Christ so that He might bless them, or soldiers go out from Herod so that they might slay them. It is either the blood of Christ, redeeming the children of men, or it is the blood of the children of men, polluting the thrones of men. There is no other way, no other option. If you will not have Christ-sons for rulers, then you have made your choice—you will have the Herod-apes for rulers.
Whenever we talk about the “true meaning of Christmas,” we must always keep this truth immediately before us. The central Christian message has always been that Jesus is Lord. We celebrate His birth because He was born among us in order to become Lord. Now that He has been established in that rule, we can commemorate His birth because we also remember to commemorate His coronation. Without the Ascension, Christmas is nothing.
Our civilization has made this choice, in an appalling direction, toward the abyss of a bottomless damnation. Like ancient Carthage, we pretend to ground our liberties on the blood sacrifice of living children. And so we re-purpose the repeated message of Cato the Elder, the true message of Christmas is Carthago delenda est—Carthage must be destroyed.
But remember where we began. This will not happen to nameless functionaries and bureaucrats. Christ is born, the angels sing, the shepherds became the first evangelists, the magi came and worshiped. A particular king named Herod felt the presence of a rival, and marshaled his forces. Those forces are still present in the world today, and they are ordered about by men and women with names. We still have a large portion of our task before us—the nations of men must still be discipled. But until they are, we declare the Christian message, the Christmas message, to men with faces and names.
We know the names of Jesus and His enemies. We do not know the names of the magi. They submitted and bowed low, and so their names will wait until the resurrection to be declared. Until then we declare the name of the one raised in the Great Resurrection, the only resurrection ever to happen in the middle of history, and because we name the name of the risen Jesus, we are simultaneously declaring a victory and defeat. The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. That is the victory. The names of all who hate and oppose Him will fall and be forgotten forever. That is their ignominious defeat. I could name thousands of such, from every political faction, but will content myself with only one proper name—these are all represented by their covenant head, Barack Obama. He, and the way of governance he represents, is necessarily stained with the blood of children. The only alternative is to be cleansed with the blood of the Child.
Therefore, the message of Christmas is that we are saved by the blood of the Child, and never by the blood of children. And if we are saved by the blood of the Child, it then becomes possible (and necessary) for our children to be saved, together with the rest of us.
So gather everyone up. Gather the elderly, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and babies in car seats. Do we have everyone? Is everyone with us? O come, let us adore Him.