My wife Melody loves her birthday. She loves to talk about her birthday, she loves to celebrate her birthday, and she loves to drop me little hints as to what she might like for her birthday. I, on the other hand, am not nearly so fond of my big day. I would just assume have a nice quiet evening at home rather than a rowdy party, and a simple meal with my wife rather than a mountain of gifts. Because I very much prefer a low-key and private birthday celebration, I have often stood astonished at Melody's desire for a high-energy and public birthday party. I have asked her more than once, "What's the big deal about birthdays?" To which she has repeatedly replied, "Your birthday is the day God brought you into the world. And that's a big deal! It's your special day, so we need to celebrate!"
"It's your special day." This is Melody's credo concerning birthdays.
Our reading for today from Matthew 2 begins thusly: "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod... " (verse 1). In Greek, the phrase "during the time of King Herod" is en hemeras Herodou, meaning literally, "In the days of Herod." Herod, it seems, didn't just have a special day, he had special days. Every day was like his birthday.
Indeed it was. For history records Herod as a hopelessly ruthless, maniacally egotistical, and incurably narcissistic ruler. His monetary wealth surpassed not only that of Caesar, but that of the collective Roman Empire. He built himself a palace, the remains of which can still be seen today, in which he literally raised the of a hill so that his mountaintop mansion would appear more imposing to those who dwelt below. He also constructed a city around his private fortress that, in the words of the first century Jewish historian Josephus, was "second to none." What would he call such a brazen display of his so-called majesty? He modestly named it the Herodium, of course. As he lay on his deathbed, Herod was so concerned that no one would mourn his passing (a justifiable concern due to his merciless brutality) that he ordered the dignitaries of Judea be locked inside the Hippodrome in Jericho and slaughtered upon his death so that there would be weeping and mourning when he died, even if it wasn't for him. These were the days of King Herod.
"In the days of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him'" (verses 1-2). Matthew begins with the "days of King Herod," but he ends with the star of the King of Jews. For the days of King Herod are being swallowed up by the dawning of the day of a new King. For the star that these Magi have seen is a "Morning Star" (Revelation 22:16). A new day is on its way. And this new day is not a day of hopeless ruthlessness, maniacal egotism, and incurable narcissism; instead, this new day is a day of gentle compassion, contagious humility, and salvific selflessness. For this new day is the new "day of the Lord Jesus" (2 Corinthians 1:14).
Perhaps you sometimes feel as though you live in the days of King Herod. Maybe you are victim of your boss's ego. Maybe you look longingly at the palaces others live in while you are barely making ends' meat. Maybe you simply live in fear of all the violence and callousness that seems to permeate today's headlines. If this is you, then this is your promise: Jesus, the Morning Star, is rising for you. The days of King Herod in all of their sinfulness and brokenness are waning while the new Day of the Lord Jesus is rushing to culminate history and bring salvation. And that day will be bigger and better than even a birthday. I hope it comes soon. Because even though I don't always enjoy a large celebration for my birthday, I'm sure I'll be up for a huge party for the Day of the Lord Jesus. After all, that's a day truly worth celebrating... no matter what kind of a birthday boy or girl you are.