Here’s a copy of my sermon from tonight reflecting on Herod and Simeon.
Herod was threatened massively by Jesus. It was the fulfilment of Simeon’s life desire to see Jesus. What about you? Angry with Christmas; or, not bothered but like the presents; or, see Jesus as saviour.
At Christmas time we focus on celebrating Jesus’ birth, but throughout the accounts in the Bible we see contrasting reactions to baby Jesus. In today’s reading we see how Herod was threatened massively by Jesus but that it was the fulfilment of Simeon’s life desire to see Jesus.
When Jesus was presented in the temple, two ceremonies were taking place, both of which had their roots in the Jewish law. The first of these was the ritual purification for a mother after child-birth. The second ceremony was the redemption of the firstborn.
Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple because they were a God-fearing couple who were determined to do things God’s way; they wanted God to e at the centre of their life together as a family, and in this respect they set us an example.
Simeon was an old man waiting to die, but he clearly hadn’t given up hope. He had kept the faith, when perhaps many might have given up. To his great delight, he discovered that the God in whom he had believed keeps his promises. No wonder he burst into a song of praise.
Simeon wasn’t told about his role in advance, instead we’re told that he was righteous and pious (Lk. 2:25). That is, he had a good and positive relationship both with God and his fellow Jews. In our terms, he had not simply a Sunday faith, but a Monday-Saturday faith.
He was a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Three times in verses 25-27 we have a reference to the Spirit at work in his life. Simeon is a reminder that the Holy Spirt was active before Pentecost.
When he saw baby Jesus, very simply he knew he had met the Messiah, the Son of God. He worshipped – and that is what we should do. He pointed people to Jesus. His prayer (known as the Nunc Dimittis) pointed very clearly to Jesus as the Saviour of the world: in this respect Simeon challenges us all.
As an aside we should see once again God performed his promise, his word, he was faithful – Simeon met Jesus.
Herod the Great
In contrast Herod the Great ruled at Jesus’ birth – king from 40-4BCE. He wasn’t a particularly nice guy: he had killed his wife Marianmne, his brother-in-law, his mother and two of his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, as he feared they would try to take power from him. This caused Emperor Augustus to observe cynically that it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son! Even more horrendous, he planned kill 3,000 people to make them mourn when he dies!
When he heard about Jesus he felt threatened, he possibly saw Jesus as the Messiah, the future King of the Jews. Unable to trick the Magi, the Wise Men, into disclosing the child’s identity, he sent in his troops to kill all the boys under the age of 2 in Bethlehem. Given Bethlehem’s size it is estimated that he murdered 15-30 toddlers that day, not that this makes the crime any less serious.
It is a historical fact that after a reign of some thirty-three years marked by violence, Herod the Great died a lonely and horrible death of cancer at Jericho in the spring of 4BC. Jesus, however, escaped to Egypt and lived. In one sense there was nothing surprising about the death of Herod: it is a biological fact that old men die, whereas normally babies live and grow up.
In every century there have been Herod’s who, recognising the Son of God as a threat to all that they have stood for, have sought to murder him. There was Herod the Great’s grandson, Herod Agrippa I, who tried to persecute the early church out of existence. He killed James, the brother of John; he imprisoned Peter, intending to execute him also. He became drunk with illusions of his own divinity, but in the end he was eaten up with worms, an died.
In the first three centuries a succession of “Herods” sat on various world thrones, devising all sorts of schemes to kill off the church. Nero, for instance, ordered Christians to be wrapped up in the hides of wild beasts and torn to bits by dogs; others he nailed to crosses; while he tarred yet others and then set light to their bodies to illuminate a circus staged for the crowds in his gardens. Yet in the end this “Herod” died and Jesus lived.
And so the story goes on, Joseph Stalin tried to wipe the face of Christianity from Russia, but this “Herod” died, and Jesus lives. Adolf Hitler threw many German Christians into his concentration camps. In the end “Herod died, but Jesus lives. Idi Amin was another Herod too, killing and persecuting many faithful Ugandan Christians. This Herod died too, but Jesus lives.
The story of Herod and the killing of the Holy Innocents as the murdered little boys are called, reminds us that we have to wait for God to finish he story: Herod died; Jesus lived. Human beings can’t stop God’s plans: Jesus is still alive today, and we can join Simeon in praising God.