The Search for a King

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Do you remember why, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch is constantly on the lookout for humans? If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you remember that she is actually afraid and has an order for any of the creatures of Narnia to immediately alert her if any humans show up. The reason is because she knows that their arrival signals the end of her reign. According to ancient prophecy, they would take over the rule of Narnia, and so she has to put a stop to that. Nearly the same thing is going on with King Herod when Jesus was born. Whether he knew to be on the look out for the birth of the messiah beforehand, once the Wise Men showed up from the East, he was on high alert. As we learn from our text today, their visit signaled the birth of the King of the Jews, and this was a direct threat to Herod. It was something he had to fight against with all his might.

While Herod may have misunderstood a great many things about Jesus, he was not wrong about the basic fact that Jesus was a king. The Wise Men were looking for an earthly king, and Herod, after consorting with the priests and scribes, believed that the messiah was this king, someone who would put him out of business. And while there is much to say about this topic, the bottom line is that both the Wise Men and Herod were correct. Jesus was a king, and he had come to bring a kingdom.

The Wise Men

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (vs. 1). Matthew’s text does not tell us a great deal about these men, but the word he uses is Magi, a term which referred to court-astrologers, men who watched the stars and advised the king. The text also simply says “the East,” but given what we know of world history at this time, the most likely candidates are Babylon or Persia.

The thing that stands out about the Wise Men’s interpretation of this star is that it signified the birth of a king. When they got to Herod they said, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (vs. 2). The fact that they came to worship Jesus may have meant nothing more than the Persian custom of worshiping an earthly king. But they may have also had an understanding of Jesus’ divine presence. When they do find Jesus, they offer him “treasures… gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (vs. 11). This was an act of tribute-paying. They wanted to honor the new king and to show their fealty towards him. Continue reading

The Bittersweet Song of Simeon

Text: Luke 2:22-35

This morning we will be looking at the narrative of Simeon and his recognition of the young Jesus as the messiah. This text should sound familiar, or at least part of it should, because we sing “the Song of Simeon” at the end of our service each week. In the original context, it was about the end of Simeon’s life. He was giving a sort of doxology and thanksgiving to God for being able to see the messiah before he died. Christian tradition has used modified it just slightly for the liturgy, singing it at the conclusion of the worship service, and that is our practice. This morning, however, we will look at the original context, learning who Simeon was, what he said, and what he predicted about the future of Jesus and His work.

Simeon

Simeon is an interesting character in large part because we know so little about him. He seems to come out of nowhere, and he does not reappear anywhere else but here. All we know is that he was an old man who had received a promise from God that he would see the messiah before he died. In a sense, he only existed to point to Christ, and that is just what he does. But we can also see that he is not alone. Just a few verses after Simeon, we read about Anna, a prophetess who was also waiting for the messiah. And so we can conclude from this pairing that there were several, even if still only a small minority, who were expecting the messiah to show up in Israel just at this time, and they were eagerly keeping watch in the temple for signs of his arrival. Continue reading

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Advent

Text: Isaiah 64:1-4

My wife hates it when folks play Christmas music before Thanksgiving. And so you can imagine how it has been to learn that people here in Central Florida begin celebrating Christmas on the second week of November. Lights are up and trees and wreaths are hung all over town well before Thanksgiving. And the really remarkable thing is that nobody feels at all bad about it. You people are totally unapologetic in your Christmas creep. And you know what, I’m kind of ok with that. That’s right, I’ll come out into the open with my secret. I’ve been quietly singing Christmas carols to myself for weeks now. One of my favorites is “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” You know how it goes:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go. Take a look in the five and ten, glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, toys in every store. But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door.

The song goes on to mention “A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots” as well as “Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk.” It concludes by saying “Soon the bells will start, and the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart.” That imagery reflects the classic Americana Christmas. It’s all about shopping, sweets, and feeling that warm spirit down in your heart. And I don’t mind this sort of American Christmas too much. It’s a lot of fun, and it reminds me of my childhood. But you know, none of those things have much to do with the Biblical picture of Christmas. Now, I’m not talking about the problem of consumerism or greed. I’m sure we could talk about those things some other time. I’m just talking about the general picture. What I’m talking about is Advent. Continue reading