“He was furious…” Matthew 2:16
I turned 60 this year. My mind still thinks I’m 30, but the body reveals another story. Stress isn’t absorbed as well it used to be, the pillow calls earlier at night, a pulled muscle takes longer to heal—so there’s no compulsion to challenge the teens playing pick up basketball outside my office.
Something about this birthday hit differently. Not that I’m retiring anytime soon, but there aren’t many more 5-year organizational plans for those who reach this milestone. So I am beginning to contemplate what gets let go over the next decade. And honestly, that’s difficult—especially for those who love to lead.
In the Christmas story, the Bible doesn’t mention the age of King Herod. I imagine, since he dies a few years after Jesus’ birth, he‘s in his sunset years. Scholars suggest he was pushing 70. Herod lived well beyond the life expectancy of his day. Regardless of his blessing of longevity, Herod seems determined to retain his position, power and reputation—especially when challenged by the birth of a newborn baby. Few stories match the tragedy and pain of what this one insecure man can wreak.
“And Herod was furious,” captures Matthew’s biblical account, upon discovering the Magi didn’t return to share the birth location of Jesus. “And Herod gave orders to kill all the boys under two in Bethlehem.” (2:16) Evidently Herod yearns for the spotlight enough to do the unimaginable. This tragic infanticide, known in Christian history as the “massacre of the innocents”, comes at an unfathomable cost to Hebrew parents and babies.
To me the Bible authenticates itself by not deleting flawed, imperfect, ugly and painful subplots from its recorded accounts. Evil is part of these stories—and the Christmas story is no exception. The worst of human nature seems to surface when something new, good and beautiful is happening. King Herod unleashes an unconscionable policy to coincide with this joyful birth—an attempt to momentarily preserve his delusion of immortality. Certainly not the first in history. He won’t be the last. History is replete with pathetic examples of those unwilling to let go.
Letting go. Isn’t this the ultimate message —boiled down, distilled and simplified—of Advent?
The simple request of this baby, to you and me, is surrender. Like Herod, we too are asked to quit pretending to be God. God’s bigger thing, more wonderful thing, can’t be released in our lives when egos convince us to play master of the universe. Letting go creates space in our hearts: space for God. Space for the Spirit. Space for the Christ-child. “Anyone who wants to save their life, must lose it,” says Jesus a few years later. “Anyone who loses his or her life will find it.” I don’t think Jesus minds substituting lose it with let it go…if we apply the meaning.
“Let go of what is not yours to carry, because your hands were meant for holy work,” writes pastor Racheal Keefe. “Stop chasing after what your neighbors have; your feet were meant for another road. And if you are staring into anything other than the realm of God, refocus right now—because you cannot have what you cannot envision. Stop expending so much energy comparing yourself to anyone other than the person God created you to be.”
Advent helps to get our feet back on the purposed, God-directed, holy, impactful road we’re meant to travel. In anticipation of the coming of Christ, we shed the things distracting us from the road God envisions for our lives. To the stable we arrive next week, surrendered on bended knee. Letting go of the unnecessary things we hold dearly, so our hearts can be filled again.