One tradition for our family is attending the Christmas morning play at the Africa Inland Church at Kijabe, Kenya. The first re-enactment of the Christmas story was probably started by some missionary Sunday school teacher with memories of the annual children’s Christmas Pageant back in her home country. But over the years the play has become a must-see event on the yearly calendar.
I remember one year when King Herod stole the show. That’s right. King Herod. The bad guy in the Christmas story who is best remembered for issuing the order to have all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed after the wise men told him the King of the Jews had been born in that little town.
As usual, this year’s Christmas play focused on angels in sheets and shepherds with real sheep, crowded onto the stage to catch a glimpse of the plastic baby Jesus in Mary’s arms. The idyllic scene changed when a standard six boy marched in wearing a huge paper crown and sunglasses. King Herod had arrived! The crowd went wild with laughter. A cohort of bodyguards, also with sunglasses, shouldered their way onto the stage and flanked King Herod. They began interrogating the wise men and pushing them around. The crowd cheered as King Herod and his men bossed everyone around – just like a real leader. Or so they thought.
The boys did a good impression of Herod the Great, a tyrant by all accounts. They had observed similar behaviour and expected leaders to act in that way. The Jews, waiting for a kingly Messiah, also had expectations of how their King would be born – in a palace, with power to push out the Roman occupiers. So it’s not surprising that Herod had no idea the real king of the universe had been born in Bethlehem. The Jewish nation missed Jesus’ arrival as well. But that first Christmas, God sent Jesus to be born in a humble stable, that part of a home where the baby animals were kept at night – much like the custom in certain parts of East Africa. Jesus came as a servant to rescue the world from sin by his eventual death on the cross.
So even though we are drawn to the powerful and cheer the Herods of this world when they shoulder others out of the way, the real power is in Jesus, the Servant King, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.