Unsettling Advent 2023, Day 11 - Word&Way

Unsettling Advent 2023, Day 11

“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3)

Despite festive activities, a paranoid ruler and his cronies are plotting. They’re upset by the announcement of a new ruler. And they refuse to give up power without a fight — even if it means breaking the law and even if some people will die.

It’s a scene that might have played out 2,000 years ago with King Herod after his conversation with the magi. It’s also a scene that describes what we’ve learned in recent months about Christmas parties at the White House in 2020.

Former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis (now a Christian talk show host) pleaded guilty in October for her role in trying to overturn the election. Her deposition to prosecutors revealed that a top White House aide told her during a Christmas party in 2020 that “the boss [Trump] is not going to leave under any circumstances. We are just going to stay in power.” And while she admitted they were both drinking at the party, she told prosecutors that she didn’t take the comment as unserious or a drunken rant.

Earlier that day, after a meeting with advisors like Rudy Giuliani and disgraced former general Michael Flynn, Trump had tweeted: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Jan. 6. Epiphany. The day we remember the visit of the magi, those wise interpreters of signs of the times. And even though Herod pretended he wanted to worship the newborn messiah, the magi realized the truth.

A woman wears a Donald Trump Christmas shirt as she arrives to hear the president-elect speak during a Dec. 16, 2016, rally in Orlando, Florida. (Paul Hennessy/Alamy)

And it wasn’t just one Christmas party in 2020. It was a whole season of plotting amid garland and twinkling lights. Trump had told guests at an earlier White House Christmas party — which sparked controversy as a big gathering during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — that he was trying to stay in office for four more years but if he didn’t he would just run again in 2024.

Then on Christmas Day — as we learned in August in an indictment of Trump — Vice President Mike Pence called to wish the president a “Merry Christmas.” Trump responded by requesting Pence unconstitutionally reject electoral votes on Jan. 6. When the conversation came up again a few days later, he told Pence, “You’re too honest.”

I wonder if Herod thought the same thing about the magi. Too honest. Disloyal. Might as well hang them.

The question ringing through the ages is this: Will we choose to adopt the values of Herod or the way of Jesus? Will we be like the religious leaders in Herod’s advisory council who told him the newborn king would be born in Bethlehem but then stayed in the palace? Or will we follow the example of the magi in worshiping Jesus and refusing to support authoritarian rulers?

Brian Kaylor is president and editor-in-chief of Word&Way.


NOTE: This is part of our Unsettling Advent devotionals running Dec. 3-Dec. 24. You can subscribe for free to receive them each morning in your inbox.