My empathy for Herod began when I traveled to the Holy Land back in 2011. I hadn’t known much about Herod before that (despite having been raised in the Church, studying at a private Christian university and getting a Masters in New Testament – we just never studied him). He was just the Hans Gruber of the original Christmas story.
How could he order the deaths of these infants?
Then I read a 100-word story Neil Gaiman wrote as a Christmas card (it’s spooky and disturbing). I was captivated by the idea of writing a story as a Christmas gift, and Herod’s story bloomed in my mind. The first scene of the Herod story is nearly exactly how I originally envisioned it.
I never wrote the story. Christmases came and went, and I’d always think about that story, and wish I had time to write it.
A couple of years later, in 2013, we did a sermon series on who was at the manger. I preached a sermon about this Herod (read it or listen to it), and why he wasn’t at the manger. I borrowed liberally from my unwritten story, and the church loved the sermon. Or rather, they were profoundly moved by it. For weeks afterwards – into the new year, people stopped me to confess how troubled they were by their empathy for Herod, bothered by how much of themselves they saw in this first Christmas grinch.
I knew Herod’s story was worth telling.
When my agent asked me for a new book idea, that Herod story leaped to the front of my brain. I said, “You know what? I think I do have an idea.”
That idea became Empathy for the Devil, and Herod is one of the villains. My publisher, InterVarsity Press, agreed to let me give you the Herod chapters as an early Christmas gift. So I guess the moral of the story is, Merry Christmas! May you find your way to the manger of Bethlehem this year.