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  • Paul Coulter

The Unwanted Christmas Gift

You’ve probably experienced the scenario of the unwanted Christmas present. The sinking feeling and feigned gratitude as the paper falls away to reveal yet another pair of socks, bottle of smelly stuff, or saggy hand-knitted jumper. Or, when the socks are on the other foot, the hollowness in someone’s eyes as they mumble that your gift will be ‘really useful.’

Unwanted gifts often reflect poorly on the giver – a lack of understanding (‘I’m sure he’ll like this – I would’) or simply desperation (‘I’ve got to give her something!’). Occasionally, though, they reflect something that’s not right in the recipient, perhaps ingratitude born of resentment (‘I don’t want anything from him!’). So it was with King Herod.


Herod’s image as the pantomime villain of the nativity play is largely supported by the historical sources. Client king of Judea under the Romans, he was ruthless, opportunistic and megalomaniacal. If he had a redeeming feature (kind of), it was his grandiose building projects – monuments to his narcissism. It is, however, Matthew’s account (Matt. 2.1-8) that reveals the full measure of the man. Fearful that many in Jerusalem – incited by exotic Magi – would believe the baby in Bethlehem to be the rightful king in David’s line, Herod schemed slaughter under the pretext of worship. He is the ultimate ungrateful Christmas gift recipient – his lips saying thanks while his heart plots murder.


What can this evil king teach us as leaders?


Might we be ‘little Herods,’ signing cards and singing carols that proclaim gratitude for God’s gift of Jesus, yet refusing to abandon the throne of our lives – or our churches – to make way for him? To worship a newborn seems humbling enough, but the real challenge of Christmas is that, as we worship him, this baby grows in stature to demand our absolute loyalty. His true purpose is to depose all rivals and direct our destiny.


What would it look like for us to lead in 2021 as people captivated by adoration of the Lord Jesus? How might we set people free to worship the humble Saviour, rather than enslaving them to our ambitions? Could we, like Herod, be so distracted with vainglorious ministry projects of our own imagination that we miss the simplicity of the gospel of God made man?


To enter 2021 as servants of Christ, we must seize the opportunity Christmas 2020 offers to climb off our thrones and journey from the power-base of Jerusalem to the insignificance of a manger in Bethlehem.


I know this year it will feel different.


I know you’re feeling tired and worn out. But, trust me, the journey will be worth it.

As you unwrap God’s gift to you in Jesus, stripping away the layers of cynicism and frustration, prepare to be enthralled once again by the one Christmas present who never disappoints.


In partnership in the easy yoke.


Paul


To hear more from Paul about enjoying Jesus this Christmas, listen to our Christmas 2020 episode of the Living Leadership podcast.
We are always adding to our archive of Articles. One of our latest articles unpacks pastoral responses to depression.
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