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The Other Christmas Story

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

I have an idea for a political thriller certain to become a best seller and possibly a hit movie. Here’s a quick sketch:

A politician exploits his family connections to become head of state, but his job approval numbers are deeply underwater. To maintain power, he engages in global intrigue with iconic world leaders, later choosing the wrong side in a war and descending into the madness of paranoia.  


As new threats to his administration emerge, he seeks to collude with foreign emissaries to destroy this threat, forcing his usurper to flee across international borders. His lunacy culminates in the murder of untold numbers of his own citizens. Along the way, he is embroiled in a series of failed marriages, the murder of two sons, and ultimately, an agonizing death.

The Advent season and the Christmas story bring joy and hope as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. But the aforementioned sketch describes the political environment into which He was born. It is the other Christmas story. 

The ruler of Judea at the time of Christ’s birth was Herod whose father, Anatipater, was a good friend of Roman dictator Julius Caesar. Herod quickly climbed the political ladder and after stints as governor of Galilee and a regional military commander, was appointed king of Judea by the Roman Senate

Herod claimed to be Jewish but many observant Jews were suspicious, given the decadence of Herod’s lifestyle. Nonetheless, Herod reigned as king of the Jews and did so partly through the establishment of a secret police force to suppress opposition to his administration. 

Mark Antony was Herod’s political ally. As part of the 2nd Triumvirate of the Roman Empire, Antony was given charge over Egypt where he carried on an extra-marital affair with, and later married, Egyptian queen Cleopatra. But that was a bit rocky too. 


Adding to Herod’s political problems was his mother-in-law, Alexandra. She wanted to bring her family, the Hasmoneans, back to power in Judea and conspired with Cleopatra to make it so. But the plot failed, and Herod and Cleopatra eventually made a deal to control the asphalt business around the Dead Sea. 

Enter into Herod’s troubled administration a trio of foreign emissaries. Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”

Matthew describes Herod as being “troubled” after speaking with the wise men but I cannot shake the suspicion that Herod was totally freaked out after hearing that the king of Jews had just been born. After all, that was his job. 

Herod’s reign was already hamstrung by terrible poll numbers and many constituents called him a tyrant. He had backed his ally Antony in a losing war with Octavian. Even his mother-in-law hated his guts. Now, there’s a new king of the Jews. For Herod, this is a political cataclysm. 

Herod then does what desperate politicians do; he lies to the wise men. “Go and search diligently for the child and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come to worship him,” reads Matthew. This is where dreams and angels come into play.


The wise men were warned in a dream to bypass Herod on their return trip home. Meanwhile, Mary’s husband Joseph is told by an angel to take his family to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, who wants to kill Jesus.

Matthew reports that Herod, upon realizing he’d been duped, “became furious and sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under.” Wanting to eliminate his political rival, Herod was thorough in murdering an entire generation of little boys. 

This Massacre of the Innocents is debated by scholars. Some dismiss Matthew’s account as a literary device because they cannot find any contemporary writing to corroborate his Gospel. On the other hand, the Massacre of the Innocents may have been the first political scandal to be memory-holed by the Judean media.

The joy of Advent and the anticipation of the birth of Jesus is unparalleled. It is a season of giving, loving and deep reverence for the Savior of humanity, a time of reflection on the greatest gift God has ever given us. 

But it also marked a seismic political event whose tremors still reverberate around the world. The political dynamics that accompanied the birth of Christ are not as heartwarming as Linus Van Pelt’s recitation of the Christmas story but they ought not be ignored either. 


If Christianity can survive the onslaught of political persecution surrounding the birth of Jesus, we can take heart that it will survive the current state of political and secular opposition to the faith. Both Christmas stories are inspiring sources of hope. 

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