“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:28-29).
Israel, a Jewish nation under Roman rule, was a melting pot of extreme loyalties and radical differences. This is where the Christmas story begins. It is set to a tone that pulses throughout the entire narrative. One of contrast — the high and mighty against the low and humble.
Herod the Great
Humanity was in Herod’s shadow. He was a man born of importance. His father, Antipater, won favor with Julius Caesar during a war with Pompey, which gained him governance of Judea as procurator. In turn, he appointed Herod, only 25 years old at the time, governor of Galilee.
Herod put an end to a team of notorious outlaws in Galilee which won him favor among the Jewish people and the Roman leaders. But he was pushed back to Rome when the Parthians invaded. He couldn’t withstand them.
When his father died, Rome made him successor. Now king of Judea and with more Roman power at his side, he overthrew the Parthians and banished them from Palestine by 37 B.C. There, he ruled as undisputed king. Herod was not just a privileged man, he was a conquering hero. They called him Herod the Great.
Zechariah the Priest
In the shadow of Herod, there was a priest from the hill country in Judah. He was a common man who found small significance in his priestly duties. But even then, he was run-of-the-mill. Not even his name was unique.
There were 18,000 priests during his day. Each were divided up among 24 divisions. Doing the math, this meant that 750 priests served with him. But he was even more humdrum than that. In Roman-occupied worlds, Jewish priests contributed nearly nothing to civilian life. Zechariah wasn’t just a straw in a haystack, he was a straw in an unwanted haystack.
If his lack of distinction could not get any worse, Luke describes him as having a barren wife. To the Romans, he was useless to civil life. To the Jews, he was a disgrace to their heritage. He couldn’t even continue his family.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were the perfect candidates for showing off God’s glory because they had none of their own. In comparison to the world’s high and mighty, they were dispensable and weak.
God’s Glory in the Trivial People
Herod was unique. Zechariah was ordinary. Herod was a king who ruled men. Zechariah was a priest who served men. Herod was known throughout history. Zechariah was hardly known in his own division. Herod raised up forces and slayed armies. Zechariah held down innocent animals and cut their throats. Herod was one in a million. Zechariah was one of a million.
But God is known for using the humble to bring low the high and mighty in order to illuminate His glory. Against the backdrop of Herod’s shadow, a silhouette of sin, God displayed His providential power. Herod’s goodness before men faded as his jealousy and paranoia consumed him. He murdered his wife, her brother, her mother, and several of his sons. But his lowest barbarics were codified in the slaughter of innocent children when Jesus was born (Matt. 2:2, 16-18).
Preparing for the first Christmas, God choose Zechariah to be the father of John the Baptist, the final prophet of the Old Covenant and forerunner of the Messiah. History calls Herod the great. His story calls Zechariah righteous (Lk. 1:6).
God looks upon the humble with favor. He is unimpressed by the accomplishments of man. How have your accomplishments drawn you away from the humility of Jesus?