One of the ironies of power is that the more powerful a person becomes or fancies self to be, the more anxious and insecure that person can grow. Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard compared a powerful, godless person to the stump of a rotten tree with no pith, the inmost being corroded in the service of nothingness.
And so, this Advent my wife and I warily added – for the first time in many years – a new figurine to the crèche we placed atop the mantel over our fireplace. All the familiar pieces were in place: Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus beneath a wooden stable, palm trees, shepherds, wise men, camels, sheep and an angel over the manger.
But last Christmas I had observed in a sermon that I had never seen a crèche displaying the wicked King Herod who lurks over the Christmas story sinister and murderous. Shortly thereafter a friend who works in a gift shop gave me a plastic molded likeness of this infant-killer. If merchants track the popularity of individual crèche pieces, my guess is that this crown-wearing sycophant is at the bottom of the sales barrel, well behind the camels and sheep.
Even so, Herod is alive, well, and nervously abusing power in many places in our world, none more ruthlessly than in the person of the thirtysomething anxiety-ridden, ill-prepared Big Cheese of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. A third generation thug, Kim and his forbears have a tragic penchant for persecuting, torturing and executing countrymen who follow King Jesus. I wouldn’t have the courage to write this column if I lived in that repressed nation.
This month, Mr. Kim executed his own uncle, Jaeng Song-thaek, accusing him of being a traitor. The New York Times reported (Monday) that the victim’s crimes included not applauding with enough gusto at a public appearance of his new boss.
What enormous insecurity! What pathetic fear! The North Korean court described the victim as “human scum,” “worse than a dog” and the state media helpfully suggested “shredding the traitor to pieces and throwing him into boiling water.” This is insecurity on an epically tragic scale.
Those who hold power – if they have any sensitivity – acknowledge the time will come when they shall no longer call the shots. This is true for elected officials, dictators, CEOs, union bosses, civil servants, preachers and popes … all of us. Those who believe self to be larger than God – or dismiss God altogether –can be assured of unending insecurity because no one can be king of the hill forever. Fortunately, most such persons don’t have an insecure index finger on a nuclear trigger.
The birth of Jesus is accompanied by charming shepherds, magisterial wise men, singing angels, a humble virgin and a protective father, but it also includes a ruthless baby-killer whose ilk is still alive and trembling. Because my wife and I need reminding that not everybody welcomes the King of Kings we place Herod on our mantel … way down on the end.
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.