In A Gospel of Christmas according to St Luke I talked about the period from the Annunciation to Mary through the birth of Our Lord in the stable of Bethlehem, and the arrival of the boisterous shepherds. As my friend Fran Rossi Szpylczyn reminded us in her Christmas blog post Dependent Small and Powerless , Jesus, tho certainly still God, was completely dependent on His earthly caregivers for protection and care.
And the first item of that care was an important one. As the Gospel of Luke reminds us,
at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.One line. But how much is behind that! In one act, Jesus, who is the Law Giver, is placed under the Law. He who presented the Law to Moses on Sinai is now subject to it! And, in becoming subject to it is shed the first of His blood for a sinful world. He receives the Holy Name given to Him by Gabriel, "Jesus" - which in Hebrew means "God Saves". It is a name, and it is also Him. It is a sign, that effects what it signifies. In modern times we celebrate the Feast of Mary the Mother of God on that eight day, which is New Years Day. But in the past, that feast was also rightly called the Feast of the Circumcision, and the Feast of the Holy Name.
Now we must talk of Herod. Herod the Great was the Roman-installed (and maintained) King of Judea. He was not a Hebrew, but rather an Edomite, one of the descendants of Esau, brother of Jacob - a traditional enemy of the Jewish people. As such, he was proud of the title "King of the Jews" - given to him by the Roman Senate. And very jealous of that title. He is called "the Great" primarily for the extensive building campaign he completed during his reign - no one who knew him or had to live with or near him would ever call him "great" because of his actions. He was insanely jealous of his title and position, and killed all who got near that power - including his wife and his own sons.
And Herod was beginning to be concerned. First, there was a wild tale of an old temple priest, performing his duties in the Holy of Holies, who had reportedly conversed with an angel of God and was struck deaf and dumb. Then this same old man had reportedly fathered a child, and recovered his speech, setting the hill country of Judea ablaze with rumors. He had attempted to capture the man and his son, but the son had been taken directly into the desert after his birth, and had eluded his spies.
Then the news from Bethlehem - a new, bright star over the town, and more angels! There had been no angels, no prophets, no divine communication in Judea for nearly five hundred years! And worse yet was the message - a King and Savior! This was a direct threat to his power.
Next, news from the Temple itself - his Temple, into which he had poured the wealth of his kingdom. Spies there had reported that two old prophets had declared that a child - was to be "The downfall and rise of many in Jerusalem"!
And lastly, the appearance of visitors from the East in his court - specifically looking for "the new born King of the Jews" - his very title! And even these visitors had given him the slip - not returning with the information he desperately needed to stamp out this threat.
Ever a man of direct and violent action, Herod orders the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, in one last-ditch effort to remove the threat. All children under the age of two are put to the sword in Bethlehem. But as we know, Herod is unsuccessful. Once more an angel comes to Joseph in a dream, and the Boy and His Mother are taken away from danger, into Egypt.
There is an interesting post-script to the story. Shortly after this, Herod dies - a particularly horrible death. He is buried in a large, opulent tomb. In 2007, Israeli archeologists discovered this tomb, right where the first century historian Josephus said it was. And from this tomb, across the valley about five miles away, is clearly visible the Church of the Nativity, which covers the Cave of Bethlehem.