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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

“Who Is This Jesus? The King”

Matthew 2:1-12 

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star in the east and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him, and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet:

 

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah,for from you shall come a ruler    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

 

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out, and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


 

We are about at the end of the Christmas season. The new year has just started. The crowds gathered in Times Square and watched the ball drop. Soon, for many, it will time to put the decorations away (if you haven’t already done so). The outside of houses will go back to their normal appearance – no brightly colored strings of lights or lawn decorations (no offense but I won’t miss those inflatable ones that look like blobs on the grass during the day). Christmas trees will be undecorated and put away for next year or recycled. Stockings that were hung with care will be put in a box.

 

We’ve sung the carols, heard the music, and listened to the story of Jesus’ birth more times than we can count. We’re done with the after Christmas sales. We are ready to turn the page and get ready for Valentine’s Day (the cards are already out). Now we can rest in the thought that there are 359 shopping days until next Christmas.

 

Even though Christmas was two weeks ago, and we are now at Epiphany, I want to revisit the account of the birth of Jesus one more time. We know that the focus I son the child born to the virgin, Mary; the child who is the Savior, the Messiah. The familiar story: Mary and Joseph, the angels, the trip to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the stable, the baby laid in the manger, and the shepherds.

 

Now we have the wisemen, also known as the kings and the magi. They are usually grouped with the rest of the story. The figurines are stationed next to the stable in our nativity scene holding their gifts with their camels standing or lying next to them. The assumption is that there were three of them because three different gifts were brought. Their names, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are based on tradition. Their story, though, is a separate part of the Messiah story.

 

The arrival of the kings is traditionally celebrated on January 6, known as Epiphany, the appearance or manifestation of Christ to the world. In many cultures, gifts are exchanged on that day, commemorating the day the gifts were given to the baby Jesus by the magi.

 

Their story is separate from the rest of the Christmas story. Unlike the shepherds who went to Bethlehem to find the Savior, the wisemen came looking for a king! For them, all the signs pointed to the arrival of this important king.

 

How often do we think of the baby in the manger as a king? Consider what comes to mind when we think of what a king is. A king lives in a castle surrounded by a moat. He has gallant knights to do his bidding and protect the castle. Or you might think of the king of the jungle as portrayed in The Lion King feature film and Broadway musical. The reigns of kings serve as historical markers in ancient world civilizations. We might think of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his leadership in the civil rights movement. For some, it could be Billie Jean King, the iconic tennis player whose name is on the tennis center where the U.S. Open is played every summer. Then there are king penguins – aren’t they cute! And if your stomach is growling you might head to Burger King after church.

 

In this story, the king is royalty. Like the British monarchy the lineage is important – King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, King Charles, William the Prince of Wales, and Prince George. A royal is born into the role.

 

This is exactly who Jesus is. He is royalty. His lineage traces back to King David, the godly king revered by the Israelites. Jesus is the king that was promised to David by God to reign on his throne forever. Jesus was born into the role of king.

 

This is who the wisemen sought, God’s king. They had come a 1,000 or more miles to find this king. They brough gifts suitable for one of royal birth. Not everyday items, but gifts of great cost – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

When the wisemen arrived in Jerusalem, the place they expected a king would be, the first thing they did was ask where the child born as the King of the Jews was. The men knew who they were looking for. Their studies of historical texts, including the scriptures, their knowledge of astronomy and astrology, and their understanding of the meaning of signs in the sky led them on the journey to find the child.

 

King Herod recognized that a new king was a threat. That is why he asked his scholarly advisors about this child and where he was to be born. It’s why he asked the wisemen when exactly the star appeared.

 

Herod was not the rightful king of the Jews. He wasn’t in the line of David, not born into royalty, and only partly Jewish. Herod was given his position and title by Roman rulers, and he ruled by creating fear among the people. It would be political dynamite if the true king had been born, the one who rightfully deserved Herod’s throne. The king spoken of by the prophets was to rule through peace. The presence of this king would undermine Herod’s authority and cause his people to question his assigned title.

 

[A side note: although Herod is often thought of in a bad light, he accomplished much during his reign including rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, improving roads, and creating an infrastructure in Jerusalem. Herod knew that his accomplishments wouldn’t guarantee his position as king if the rightful king had been born.]

 

Despite the fears and doubts of many, including Mary and Joseph, and despite how the story of Jesus’ birth is recalled, the reality is this King, this child, born in a stable, wrapped in cloths, and laid in a manger was and is the rightful king. Even though his pedigree didn’t seem to measure up – born to a family of humble means, working as a carpenter, becoming an itinerant teacher who spoke God’s word, healed, and cared for people - this Jesus died on the cross as the Savior of the world.

 

He is the King the world was waiting for, the one God promised would come. Jesus wasn’t the expected king who would cast out the Romans and restore the land to its rightful owners, the Jewish people. Rather, Jesus was the promised king who would rule through peace. Jesus is the King who profoundly changed the world.

 

What does this knowledge mean for us? Do we need to rethink the Christmas story and reformat it in our minds? Or does a different picture create confusion and/or questions we didn’t have before? You’ll have to decide that for yourself.

 

Now we know why the wisemen aren’t just additional figurines in the manger scene who rode in on camels bringing expensive gifts. These men were in the story for a specific purpose. They came to worship THE king. The wisemen knelt before the child and presented their gifts meant for royalty. Their story shows us another dimension of the child’s purpose. The baby born in Bethlehem was not only our Savior, but he is also our King.

 

Jesus the King was a leader. He attracted people to him who wanted to follow him, and he still does. Jesus is the king who rules in love and justice (not judgement).

 

Thinking of Jesus as our king impacts our faith. Knowing that he is also the king doesn’t diminish our faith, it adds another facet. This knowledge changes our understanding of who he is and challenges us to rethink how Jesus fits into our own faith picture.

 

Jesus is truly OUR king. It’s the reason we call him Lord and Savior.

 

Amen.

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