Far off in Rome, Augustus Caesar was a colonial ruler who viewed Palestine, when he thought of Palestine, as a source of cash. Herod, the sycophantic local, did the dirty job of ruling the region for Rome. Herod the Great was effective at this job, kept the peace and allowed some of the colonial graft to go to local projects. After all, he built a grand Temple and gave God’s people easy wins.
Better to fail, to face martyrdom, than to sell the truth of the faith to the presently powerful for short term gains. Herod was Great in the short term and a certain sort of court religious person would justify his evil deeds.
Herod was not so great, however, when it came to the truth. He was willing to do, say, and be what was necessary to keep his patrons back in Rome happy. He could justify this betrayal of the folks by pointing out that things could easily be worse. After all, if not Herod, then some Pilate would come to rule. The mistake of the Herodians was thinking that being coopted for a lesser evil was better than not being evil at all. Joseph and Mary said “yes” to God and ignored the world, the flesh, and devils as much as was possible. Augustus and Herod said “yes” to the world, their own flesh, and devils, hoping to cut a deal.
For most people, politics was problematic. The Romans instituted a peace, of a sort, and ruled with a vague sense that there was a higher law. The local petty states they supplanted were generally, materially, worse, though no patriot would trade local rule for imperial peace.
Herod the Great was a monster, kinder to his pigs than to his heirs.
Against Caesar Augustus at Christmas stood Joseph of Nazareth: not at all relevant unless one judged by the millennia to come. Augustus had maneuvered himself to power over an Empire, the father of the Romans, Joseph dreamed his way to becoming the step-father of God. Against Herod was Mary. Herod was a court sort-of-Jewish figure who trimmed his faith to fit his need to keep power. Mary was an authentic woman: the Mother of God. The Romans and Herod had legions, Joseph and Mary had angels and shepherds.
Pity Augustus, mourn for Herod, but ask for the prayers of the innocents they murdered. Augustus and Herod were outmanned at every turn by Christmas. Fear and might cannot defeat love. The innocents Herod killed, the tribes Augustus taxed, Rest In Peace. The rulers of that present age are tormented by their crimes.
Augustus came to Christmas grasping, grifting, seeking gain. Herod came to Christmas killing, ranting, fearful.
Joseph came to Christmas granting, giving, seeking grace. Mary came to Christmas bearing a son and He was Emmanuel: God with us.
Christmas has villains, but also heroes. Joseph was willing to take second place in the story and so provide a home for God. Mary conceived, had a son, and helped Him grow in favor with God and men. She beat Augustus, now known mostly for her Son being born in his reign, and escaped Herod, the pitiful tyrant.
Grace and love wins at Christmas over villainy, power, and fear.