I know the Christmas tree looks nice, all lit up and with ornaments hanging from its branches. Good will and peace on earth are sung and hoped for in many corners. We think of joy and blessings upon the birth of the Christ and well we should. Having said that, I don't really like this thing we call Christmas. I'm not speaking of the bah humbugs of Scrooge. I don't like the commercialization of Christmas but I suspect there are a lot of people with similar sentiments. There is something else that goes unstated around these events. Something remains hidden and kept out of most discussions. Not here. I want this to be my remembrance of the purpose of Christ. Man is totally depraved and but for the grace of God would be utterly depraved, base in all his being. Jesus came into this world to save it, to bring out of despair the foul workings of what follows from Eusebius' History of the Church. When the grace of God is removed from fallen man, the stench of what we are capable of becoming is beyond horrible. Jesus came into a world ruled by that stench of reprobation without even an appearance of a façade to give some false assurance of goodness. A man named Herod ruled Palestine with Roman governance and authority. The same man exhibited a degree of wickedness that each one of us should pray we never encounter although many in this world suffer under the same today. Herod's is a wickedness that the LORD ordained and allowed and one that brought terrible judgment upon the sinner. While we might not envision ourselves caught up in the slaughter of innocents, it is not far from our own fallen human condition to partake in worse. The cradle of western civilization gave birth to the most horrendous slaughtering of the 20th century, not once but three times (WWI, WWII, Stalin's purges). The façade of goodness in man is only skin deep, if that. This is reason for the season, the coming of the Messiah, so that men who will believe in Him might be saved.
Consider what world the Christ came into …
1. When Christ was born, according to the prophecies, in Bethlehem of Judea, at the time indicated, Herod was not a little disturbed by the enquiry of the magi who came from the east, asking where he who was born King of the Jews was to be found,—for they had seen his star, and this was their reason for taking so long a journey; for they earnestly desired to worship the infant as God.—for he imagined that his kingdom might be endangered; and he enquired therefore of the doctors of the law, who belonged to the Jewish nation, where they expected Christ to be born. When he learned that the prophecy of Micah announced that Bethlehem was to be his birthplace he commanded, in a single edict, all the male infants in Bethlehem, and all its borders, that were two years of age or less, according to the time which he had accurately ascertained from the magi, to be slain, supposing that Jesus, as was indeed likely, would share the same fate as the others of his own age.
2. But the child anticipated the snare, being carried into Egypt by his parents, who had learned from an angel that appeared unto them what was about to happen. These things are recorded by the Holy Scriptures in the Gospel.
3. It is worth while, in addition to this, to observe the reward which Herod received for his daring crime against Christ and those of the same age. For immediately, without the least delay, the divine vengeance overtook him while he was still alive, and gave him a foretaste of what he was to receive after death.
4. It is not possible to relate here how he tarnished the supposed felicity of his reign by successive calamities in his family, by the murder of wife and children, and others of his nearest relatives and dearest friends. The account, which casts every other tragic drama into the shade, is detailed at length in the histories of Josephus.
5. How, immediately after his crime against our Saviour and the other infants, the punishment sent by God drove him on to his death, we can best learn from the words of that historian who, in the seventeenth book of his Antiquities of the Jews, writes as follows concerning his end:
6. "But the disease of Herod grew more severe, God inflicting punishment for his crimes. For a slow fire burned in him which was not so apparent to those who touched him, but augmented his internal distress; for he had a terrible desire for food which it was not possible to resist. He was affected also with ulceration of the intestines, and with especially severe pains in the colon, while a watery and transparent humor settled about his feet.
7. He suffered also from a similar trouble in his abdomen. Nay more, his privy member was putrefied and produced worms. He found also excessive difficulty in breathing, and it was particularly disagreeable because of the offensiveness of the odor and the rapidity of respiration.
8. He had convulsions also in every limb, which gave him uncontrollable strength. It was said, indeed, by those who possessed the power of divination and wisdom to explain such events, that God had inflicted this punishment upon the King on account of his great impiety."
9. The writer mentioned above recounts these things in the work referred to. And in the second book of his History he gives a similar account of the same Herod, which runs as follows: "The disease then seized upon his whole body and distracted it by various torments. For he had a slow fever, and the itching of the skin of his whole body was insupportable. He suffered also from continuous pains in his colon, and there were swellings on his feet like those of a person suffering from dropsy, while his abdomen was inflamed and his privy member so putrefied as to produce worms. Besides this he could breathe only in an upright posture, and then only with difficulty, and he had convulsions in all his limbs, so that the diviners said that his diseases were a punishment.
10. But he, although wrestling with such sufferings, nevertheless clung to life and hoped for safety, and devised methods of cure. For instance, crossing over Jordan he used the warm baths at Callirhoë, but are themselves sweet enough to drink.
11. His physicians here thought that they could warm his whole body again by means of heated oil. But when they had let him down into a tub filled with oil, his eyes became weak and turned up like the eyes of a dead person. But when his attendants raised an outcry, he recovered at the noise; but finally, despairing of a cure, he commanded about fifty drachms to be distributed among the soldiers, and great sums to be given to his generals and friends.
12. Then returning he came to Jericho, where, being seized with melancholy, he planned to commit an impious deed, as if challenging death itself. For, collecting from every town the most illustrious men of all Judea, he commanded that they be shut up in the so-called hippodrome.
13. And having summoned Salome, his sister, and her husband, Alexander, he said: 'I know that the Jews will rejoice at my death. But I may be lamented by others and have a splendid funeral if you are willing to perform my commands. When I shall expire surround these men, who are now under guard, as quickly as possible with soldiers, and slay them, in order that all Judea and every house may weep for me even against their will.'"
14. And after a little Josephus says, "And again he was so tortured by want of food and by a convulsive cough that, overcome by his pains, he planned to anticipate his fate. Taking an apple he asked also for a knife, for he was accustomed to cut apples and eat them. Then looking round to see that there was no one to hinder, he raised his right hand as if to stab himself."
15. In addition to these things the same writer records that he slew another of his own sons before his death, the third one slain by his command, and that immediately afterward he breathed his last, not without excessive pain.
16. Such was the end of Herod, who suffered a just punishment for his slaughter of the children of Bethlehem, which was the result of his plots against our Saviour.
17. After this an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and commanded him to go to Judea with the child and its mother, revealing to him that those who had sought the life of the child were dead. To this the evangelist adds, "But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in the room of his father Herod he was afraid to go thither; notwithstanding being warned of God in a dream he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.