A Different Kind of King
New Year greetings to all,
I pray God’s blessings upon you and yours. I thank God for you daily. Due to my downtime with Covid, we will begin the New Year with a couple Christmas messages. I pray you don't mind. By the way, Kristi and I are fine now. Thank you for your prayers and your messages of encouragement.
There have been many important births throughout human history. Many of these births we could easily agree as being of great benefit to mankind. We probably could also agree on just as many births that we would classify as being detrimental to humanity and the world.
However, one birth and one birth alone stands well above all the rest. I am speaking here of the birth of the Deliverer of the people of Israel, the foretold coming of the Messiah, the one we know today as the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
Over the years, all of us, as individuals, along with our families and our churches, have fallen into a groove celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, especially here in the United States. Marketers and advertisers, politicians and governmental entities, have gained control over the season of Christmas, with the end result being that we see and hear little of Jesus in any of the displays or promotions for Christmas.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I love this time of year. I love Christmas. I am an ex-retailer. I loved the fast pace and busyness of the Christmas season. I love the decorations, Christmas music of all kinds, even the emphasis on the colors of red and green.
But, having said all of this, these things, if we are honest, are all just made up and superficial. Because for those of us who admit to being followers of Jesus Christ, Christmas is, and always will be a very special time of the year. A time when we are (prayerfully) moved in a way that is special, in a manner that is more spiritual than physical.
Culturally, regionally, and internationally Christmas is celebrated in many different ways. We, as families, have our own traditions that have been passed down through generations. Things like when do you open gifts, Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, or both? We have favorite scriptures and prayers, certain music that we listen to at certain times. We even seem to plan visits to certain family members and friends on a regular basis at certain times. It just makes me smile thinking about all of these things in my life.
Some of my most cherished family memories are of the Christmas season, including my Christmas Eves and mornings as a child and a parent.
Let’s not forget that churches have traditions too. At Harmony, it begins with decorating the church, as we have done for generations. The Advent Candle, the fellowship, the caroling, the community Christmas program, Christmas Eve drop-in Communion, and yes goody bags. Who doesn’t want a Christmas poke? Because of Covid, many of these traditions did not take place this year. I like to think that we handled this abrupt change with grace and dignity. But Christmas means more to us as believers than just nostalgia. Something visceral happens, should happen deep inside each of us every Christmas. I believe it’s because each year we identify more with Jesus. We reconnect in a way that charges us up, amps us up for the coming year, making us (maybe allowing us is the better phrase) to regain our focus on Jesus, who he is, and what he means to all of us and how we relate to him. Because if we believe in Jesus, we are related to him. He's our sibling who happens to be King. I get goosebumps every time I think of this. Jesus came in a way that the Jewish people and the world did not anticipate. God rarely does things the way we expect. Praise God for that. Jesus' birth, as miraculously earth shattering as it was, was really an enigmatic and low budget kind of affair. I wonder why? Wonder with me as we go to Luke 2:1-3. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria), and everyone went to their own town to register.” Caesar had replaced the Roman republic with an imperial form of government, expanding the Roman Empire to include the entirety of the Mediterranean world. To rule, Caesar needed soldiers and money. This census would provide lists from which to recruit soldiers and these same lists could be used to tax people. So this is the time that we find Joseph and Mary, who is great with child, on the road. They are doing what everyone else is doing, which is heading to their hometown because of the census. Luke 2:4-5, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Mary was also from the lineage of David, and women also were required to register for the census to pay taxes.
Mary and Joseph come from an imperfect lineage of murderers and adulterers (This is all in the Bible). They come from Nazareth, a rinky-dinky town, probably the rinkiest-dinkiest town in all of Galilee. Mary, an adolescent really, is a young woman of common origin, nothing special really. Joseph, a carpenter, nothing more. But the baby that Mary is carrying is something different. Most kings inherit their positions and titles from their earthly fathers, but Jesus was the Word, the Son of God, the creator of all things, from before time began. Jesus was different from all the earthly kings. Another thing about earthly kings, their reign always, always came to an end, either due to age, death, or some nefarious reason. The reign of Christ the King will never end. For centuries the Israelites had been looking forward to the Messiah. They understood that the Messiah would come from David’s line, Israel’s greatest king. Because of this, the Jewish people just assumed that their Deliverer would be an even greater king than king David. What the Jewish people did not understand yet was that Jesus Christ was coming to rule hearts, not nations. So, in a manner that defied human logic, the God of the Universe chose the hometown of Nazareth for the King of kings, his son. For his birthplace, God chose Bethlehem. Luke 2:6-7, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Jesus, God’s son, the King of kings and the Lord of All was born in a stable, a cruddy barn in a cave. Just a hole dug out of a rock is what most historians believe this barn to be. It was just a primitive shelter for some farm animals. So among the animals, all the bugs and vermin associated with a barn, and the bodily waste products and fluids, and the smells, the Son of Man was born. Jesus’ life on this earth was not going to be like his life at the right hand of his Heavenly Father. His purpose was different. His purpose was sacrificial. Isaiah 53:3,
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Jesus’ purpose was sacrificial, but also he was, in a way, a beast of burden. Jesus was born to carry each of our sins to the cross. A man like this would have a different birth from what we would normally imagine for a king. His unsanitary birth, in a feeding trough, in a dark and stinky barn makes perfect sense for his purpose. As we ponder this beginning, I ask that you ponder what this means to you? What did Jesus have you do differently this Christmas? Me, I had Covid. Maybe you battled Covid too. Or, had relatives with Covid that caused you to break tradition and the all too familiar pattern of behavior at Christmas. Just as baby Jesus, lying in that smelly stable, lit up that dark place, his presence among us lights up the dark and smelly corners of our hearts. Can we admit that there is a possibility that God will use us in an unexpected unanticipated way as we head into the New Year? Maybe God will place you in an undesirable situation in order to create something beautiful, something great, a miracle even. I sure hope so, for both you and me. Have a Happy New Year. Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.
Blessings, Thad Brown Opportunity House and Harmony UMC