Herod Antipas (aka Herod the Tetrarch and King Herod) was Caesar Augustus’ puppet ruler of Galilee when Jesus asked the crowds about John the Baptizer: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?”
It might strike our ears as a bit of an odd question. But to his first-century Palestinian audience, Jesus’ reference to a reed shaken by the wind would have resonated with a scandalous message about authority and about the politics and identity of kingdoms, especially the kingdoms of men vs the Kingdom of God.
Show me the money.
We all remember Jesus’ famous encounter with the Pharisees and Herodians when he is asked if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22: 16-21). The coin presented to Jesus on that occasion was a denarius—the official coin of the Empire and the only money accepted for paying the Roman tax. A denarius had the “graven” image of the Emperor inscribed on its face— “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
The denarius, however, was not the only coinage in circulation in Galilee when Jesus spoke to the crowds about John. There was also the local coinage of King Herod. King Herod Antipas was known for striking his coins with the image of a reed on one side— “a reed shaken by the wind?” The “reed” coin was the equivalent of Herod’s trademark. In similar fashion to the emperor’s denarius, the reed coin represented Herod’s power, authority, and wealth.
And so, the Advent question remains: What is the Kingdom we await? What is its authority? What is its justice? What does it mean to be great, wealthy, and powerful in God’s Kingdom? What do we seek for Christmas? A reed shaken by the wind? The wealth, riches, and power of this world? Or is Christmas the promise of something else, something unexpected, controversial, transformative?
Be prepared: no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”