Three Kings, One Present

 When I was maybe in the 5th or 6th grade, I played a trumpet solo for the Christmas Eve service. I played the old Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

As famous as the carol is, it’s not so biblically accurate. According to Matthew 1, magi, three or more, visit Jesus. They were not kings. Magi were priests and practitioners of the Zoroastrian faith.

That said, there are 3 kings to be found in the story of Jesus’ birth. And Palestine was then considered the Orient, a term we no longer use. So, there are 3 kings there in the so-called Orient.

Who are these 3 kings?

One king is obvious. The other two kings are more implicit in our wonderful narrative from Luke 2. 

Who are they?

Well, the first one, as I said, should be obvious to us, though not at all obvious to those who meet him in the story. Tomorrow is this king’s day, this newborn king lying in a feeding trough for the farm animals.

Jesus, even as a newborn, is the king of his people.

But what’s even more mind-blowing is this: that tiny one, a king cooing in that Bethlehem stall -- he is, as the Nicene Creed says, “Light of Light, true God of true God.” The very Creator of the whole universe, the one who holds the moon, star, and planets in place, comes to us here inhabiting the humblest of realities - a baby boy wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a feeding trough.

Talk about Amazing Grace. From Christ’s cradle, this grace is as powerful as it gets.

Okay, one king named Yeshua is there, that’s clear.

Where, who are the two other kings?

The other king is King David. That’s right, King David is there. Where do we see him?

Well, the angel of the Lord calls David by name. The angel says, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” When you name something, you bring it to the present. With the word David, he is there in a sense.

What is the city of David? Of course, Bethlehem. That’s where David was born. David would grow up around Bethlehem, growing to be the greatest king that Israel ever knew.

Jesus is born in the line of and in the city of David.

It’s clear to Jews hearing this that Jesus is the New David, the messiah long waited for, hoped for, prayed for.

But there’s another part of our story telling us that David is there. To whom is the angel telling the good news of Jesus’ birth? The angel is talking to shepherds.

The angel comes to shepherds, a lowly, outcast group from whom once came the greatest king Israel ever saw, David.

It is as if the angel is saying, David came from you, and was one of you. Now, you should come to the new David in Bethlehem. This new David born today is is one of you too. The good shepherd, the one you’ve been waiting for, the one due your honor and your reverence and your devotion, is born!

It is fitting the angel calls shepherds to be first witnesses, the first followers, the first Christians.

The child born is the good shepherd, as well as the lamb of God.

Christmas in many ways is a day for shepherds, for the lowly, outcast ones, for those perennially on the outside looking in.

On Christmas morning, those on the outside are welcomed inside, embraced and warmed by the child’s light, never to be left behind.

So, King Jesus and King David are there? Who was the last king there that day?

Look at verse 1 of our gospel passage from Luke – Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus was not just a king, but the king of kings of the Roman Empire.

Now, Luke 2 is an absolutely essential text. If we were to rank biblical passages from the New Testament, Luke 2 would be way up there. And here’s the thing - you cannot read and truly understand Luke 2 without reading and understanding it in light of the historical context.

This newborn king named Jesus was born in the context of the Roman Empire, an empire ruled ruthlessly, brutally, and violently by Caesar, the world’s king of kings.

The Christmas story is a subversive one. It subverts the fake good news of the empire with its fake peace and points to God’s kingdom and its real, lasting peace.

This newborn king, he is not only the new David. He is the new Caesar who ordains a new kingdom of real peace. That is what Luke 2 is saying. That is what God through the voice of the angels is declaring!

The contrasts between Ceasar and Christ make this clear.

Caesar calls a census to number his subjects in order to oppress and bully them. Baby Jesus cries to save and free numberless people.

Caesar awakes every day in the lap of luxury, rewarded with a grand palace on a Roman hill from which he looks down from high. Baby Jesus is born this day in the lowliest of habitations, denied a room in the humblest roadside inn but given a farm stall outside the inn.

Caesar could have, wear, eat, do whatever was humanly possible, limits not really applicable to him. Baby Jesus has no pillow for his head, wears swaddling clothes limiting his every movement, lays in a feeding trough for farm animals as if himself food, unable to do anything for himself, reliant on others, namely his parents, to care and rear him up. 

Caesar has an army of men fighting for him, securing him as emperor and a god, shouting his praises. In the world’s eyes, what greater power can be had?

Baby Jesus has an army of angels telling lowly shepherds of the good news of his birth, declaring him messiah and the one Lord, singing him praises. In heaven’s eyes, this vulnerable child brings the truest, most lasting power, a spiritual power that never dies.

These contrasts say one thing:

This Child is the new Caesar bringing in a new way, a new paradigm, a new world. In this new world, justice, love, and humility will be the guiding principles. In this new world, the vulnerable, the poor, the captive, the children will be lifted up and set free. In this new world, a godly peace, a peace forged by forgiveness, non-violence, and reverence will reign eternally. In this new world, a child shall lead us.

 

Earlier this year, there was a big to do about men thinking about the Roman Empire all the time.

But where is the Roman Empire now? Where is Caesar? In the words of Sting, the empire turned to sand and fell into the sea.”

Christ’s community still stands. Not even death on a Roman cross will keep down this one crying in the manger.

Love wins, my friends. In that struggle between the Caesars of the world and Christ of the Cosmos, the love of Christ wins.

The community dedicated to that love, this living reality we call the church, it still lives to celebrate this day.

Why? How could this be?

In the words of Paul to the Romans,

38 Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And so, we celebrate Christ’s mass, singing with the armies of angels,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all.

Amen.

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