If he were living today I have a feeling he might have been the president of Syria, or at the very least, the often heavy-handed commissioner of the NBA. For like Bashar Assad, who has shown no hesitation to kill his own people, or even a bit like David Stern, who recently fined the San Antonio Spurs a cool quarter of a million dollars simply for not playing four of their stars in Miami, Herod the Great was a man who broached no rivals and demanded that everything go his way.
His building skills were legion, of course, and all across the Roman province of Judea you could see the monuments to his own outsized ego. From an impressive manmade harbor at Caesaria Maritima, where he built his palace on a promontory jutting out into the sea– to a fortress outside of Bethlehem (modestly known as the “Herodian”) which was built by lopping off the top of one mountain and piling it onto the hill beside it to make his building visible even from Jerusalem–to the expansion and reconstruction of the Second Temple in the Holy City itself, Herod left his mark wherever he went.
Likewise, Herod had the trust of his superiors in Rome where, because of his tenacity, the Senate even conferred upon that ambitious Idumean (or son of Edom) the misapplied title “King of the Jews.” Unfortunately, however, Herod’s vision and ambition were matched in scale only by his ruthlessness and paranoia, leading him to mercilessly slaughter any and all whom he saw as a threat, including his own sons and wives.
When the rumor reached him therefore of the impending birth of a potential rival—even one who might reign only years after Herod himself was long gone—the royal rage roared once again. For to make matters worse, the wise men who came from the East were none other than Persians, the same group that Jewish loyalists had tried to solicit thirty years before to drive the Herodian clan from power. Thus Herod the Great did the only thing that he knew how to do: he turned to violence and murder in a desperate attempt to hang onto power that ultimately was not his to keep anyway.
And as another Christmas approaches, it would seem that the neighborhood around Jerusalem, and indeed around the world, has not really changed all that much over the centuries. For you don’t have to be in Syria to see that wherever you are, there is still the temptation to do whatever it takes to maintain control and have our own way in life, no matter what the collateral damage to others, even our own families, might be. In contrast to both Herod and Assad, however, the king that was born in that tiny burg of Bethlehem showed us a different way altogether.
If you’re looking for a way to really celebrate that king’s birth, therefore, here’s a suggestion: Stop insisting of having your own way and start thinking about how to follow the King who did not come to be served, but to serve others. You don’t even need to worry about the big stuff for now, in fact—just let someone else go ahead of you in traffic and that will be a start. Likewise, forgive whatever slights—real or imagined—others may do to you this month, remembering that holidays can be the most stressful times of all for some. And if you should happen to meet up with any Persians, don’t take it personally if they ask you how to find someone who’s better than yourself. Likewise, if they choose to go on home rather than spend another night on the road, try not to fine them vast sums of money just because you can.
In short, try to embody at least some of the characteristics of the future king who was born in the meanest of circumstances so long ago, rather than the king at the time who was simply just mean.
After all, it’s not your birthday and it’s not about you. Truth is–it never was.