“Three Kings, a king, and a KING”

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2008  Matthew 1:18-2:12

Forgetting the Meaning of Christmas?

What is the meaning of Christmas – what’s it all about? Is it primarily about decorations and presents and rushing around to family get-togethers? Someone has written this parody or take-off of Luke’s account of the Christmas story: “And there were in the same country children keeping watch over their stockings by the fireplace. And, Lo! Santa Claus came upon them and they were sore afraid. And Santa said unto them: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people who can afford them. For unto you will be given great feasts of turkey, dressing and cake; and many presents; and this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find the presents, wrapped in bright paper, lying beneath a tree adorned with tinsel, coloured balls, and lights. And suddenly, there will be with you a multitude of relatives and friends, praising you and saying, ‘Thank you so much, it was just what I wanted.’ And it shall come to pass as the friends and relatives have gone away into their own homes, the parents shall say to one another, ‘Darn it! What a mess to clean up! I’m tired, let’s go to bed and pick it up tomorrow. Thank goodness, Christmas only comes once a year!’ And they go with haste to their cold bed and find their desired rest.”

Not just about hustle-bustle of presents and relatives

Surely that’s not all that Christmas is about. But many people will experience it that way nonetheless. Is something missing?

Our Bible lesson from Matthew shows us some people who get the true meaning figured out.

Three Kings – Seeking

In Matthew’s account, the main witnesses to the initial Christmas event are magi, not shepherds. The carols we sing may refer to them as ‘three kings’ as in ‘we three kings of orient are…’

provided rulers with valuable information

Magi were probably not rulers themselves, but royal astrologers who provided rulers with valuable information and advice.

begin with a question: “Where…”

The first thing to note about the ‘three kings’ or magi is that they were SEEKING. Matthew introduces them asking a question, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Mt 2:2) They were searching, hunting for a Jewish ruler whose sign they had noticed in their star-gazing. Once they are provided with information from an Old Testament prophecy and they see the star going ahead of them, they continue their search until they find the child they were looking for in Bethlehem.

Are you a ‘seeker’? Do you have questions about God? If you’re here tonight as a ‘seeker’, you’re in the right place! The Almighty has put a spirit within us that searches to know ultimate truth, things like why we’re here, who made us, and what we’re to be about. Like the star-gazing ‘three kings’, nature gives us part of the answer – hinting that such beauty and power and order as we see around us must have an intelligent Designer, a Creator who’s beyond it. But a fuller answer comes from the Bible, the prophets and apostles to whom God spoke by what’s called ‘special revelation’, showing them things spiritually that we couldn’t figure out just by looking around. And best of all, at Christmas God revealed His real character by sending His Son Jesus, who so captures the radiance of God’s glory and represents God’s being so exactly that He could say to His disciples that, if they had seen Him, they had seen God the Father! (Heb 1:3; Jn 14:9)

God looks for seekers, is found by them

It’s OK to have questions about God. It shows that, with our limited minds and longing hearts, we are seeking Him. God says in His Word, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” And He promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Ps 14:2; Jer 29:13)

A king – Scheming & Savage

Herod is a king much different than the ‘three kings’ or magi. Matthew tells us “he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” When Herod wasn’t happy, he had the habit of causing heads to roll. He was very suspicious and killed people he suspected of plotting against him; his jealousy led to the murder of several of his sons and his wife Mariamne. A Roman ruler of the day said, “I’d rather be Herod’s dog than his son” – better life expectancy!

Herod and the ‘backroom boys’

Herod was a schemer, trying to outwit any rivals. The magi’s talk of a new King launched Herod into immediate action. Somebody knows something he doesn’t! He immediately called together the chief priests and scribes to find out where the new threat to the throne might be happening. “Bethlehem,” they answered from having read Micah’s prophecy. Now Herod has the information he needs. His scheming proceeds. He calls the Magi – secretly, another backroom meeting – and finds out more information from them, what time the star had appeared. Then he lies through his teeth, telling them to continue their search for the child – something these seekers were only too happy to do – then he adds trying to mask a sinister tone, “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Ha! The only one Herod worships is himself! After all, isn’t he called ‘Herod the Great’?

sinister scheming to thwart all rivals

But really he’s scheming, planning to kill the new baby as soon as he can find out where he is. Later when the Magi return home without telling him the baby’s location, he’s furious, and proceeds to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and vicinity who are up to two years old. How savage! Scheming and savage – that’s Herod to a T.

our own manipulation – doubting God knows best

What about us? Do we sometimes scheme, imagining we can put one over on other people, or maybe even God? Do we manipulate or try to control people around us, because we’re too proud? Are we reluctant to allow God to direct us, figuring we know better than Him, or doubting what the Bible says about God working in all things for the GOOD of those who love Him (even though that may mean hardship for a while)? When others let us down, not meeting our expectations – maybe changing their plans like the Three Kings – are we patient and understanding, or do we erupt in fury like Herod?

death followed by judgment

The paragraph immediately after the account of Herod’s savagery in killing the boys around Bethlehem begins with three sobering words: “After Herod died…” He who caused the death of so many suddenly met his own end. And judgment for all his evil deeds. The Bible says, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” (Heb 9:27) And the newborn King he tried so hard to snuff out would grow and mature and become the righteous standard by which all our actions are gauged.

A KING – Saving & Shepherding

born to save people from their sins

So just who is this little tyke that all the fuss is about – that wise men travel hundreds of miles to see, and a tyrant sends armed soldiers to try to snuff out? What’s so special about Him? Has he got some secret power or information hard-coded inside, like the hapless Buy-more serviceman referred to as the “Intersect” who has a CIA computer programmed into his brain in the TV series “Chuck”?

An angel tells his foster-father Joseph, “What is conceived in [Mary] is from the Holy Spirit…You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is a short-form for ‘God saves’. While Herod is a murderous scheming and savage king, snuffing out people’s lives, Jesus is to become a Saviour for people, making it possible for them to not die and be judged eternally for their sins – how far they’ve fallen from God’s ideal plan for their lives; instead His death in our place at the cross, taking our punishment, means we can actually be put right with God and live forever!

ruler who is a shepherd for the people

Also, the prophecy from Malachi the priests and scribes quote has more information about this wonder-kid’s identity. “But you, Bethlehem…out of you will come a ruler who will be the SHEPHERD of my people Israel.” Hmm – interesting combination: ‘ruler’ and ‘shepherd’. A shepherd is someone who takes care of sheep. They were at opposite ends of society, ruler way up there and shepherd down at the bottom – so looked down-upon that they weren’t even allowed to give evidence in court!

But way back, David had been a great king who brought in Israel’s ‘golden age’ – and he started off as a shepherd. He cared for his people, not like Herod. So God’s Word picks up this symbol of shepherding as the ideal king long hoped-for: humble, compassionate, merciful, caring more about other people than about protecting himself. Jesus had that manner, He was that kinda guy. “I am the good shepherd,” He said; “the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:10) Not like the enemy, the thief, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy – that’s the devil; we need a Good Shepherd to protect us from the thief.

miracle’ of missing woman found by rescue dog

Speaking of saving people – an amazing thing happened in Ancaster Monday when a 55-year-old woman was found alive buried under 60 cm of snow. Apparently she’d gone shopping for cooking supplies Friday afternoon, was caught in a blizzard, left her vehicle, became disoriented and couldn’t find her way back. She’s recovering from hypothermia and exposure in hospital. Her husband says it’s a miracle – God reached down and cradled her and kept her alive until she could be found, 3 days later. She was saved despite the snow and temperatures down to 20 below. The type of dog that saved her? A dutch SHEPHERD.

In many ways, spiritually, apart from God we’re like that woman: lost, disoriented, wandering, buried under a weight of sin, blinded by the god of this world, doomed. Jesus came to earth to shepherd us back to safety.

Three Kings – Seeking & Surrendering

The three kings or “magi” kept on seeking and eventually found the newborn king they were looking for. What was their response to seeing the child? “…They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Mt 2:11)

offered worship and gifts

Bowing down, worshipping, offering gifts – they SURRENDERED themselves to Him, an appropriate response for the King of kings. In what ways is God inviting us to surrender tonight? How have we been ‘holding out’ on Him, reluctant to let Him be Lord of every detail of our lives?

gold: money / wealth

One wise man offered his gold. Money, wealth – that’s an idol for many people; take the saying, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” The stock market dive and economic woes of the past couple of months have been a rebuke to many who were bound by temporal values. Are we ready to give our money and budgeting over to Jesus?

incense: beauty

Another of the magi offered frankincense, an exquisite perfume. Beauty can be an idol for some people; are we a little too concerned about our looks? Can we offer to God our disappointment perhaps at not being the cutest one on the block? Let’s stop ‘keeping up appearances’ at the cost of being self-deceived.

myrrh: fear of death / ill health

Last, myrrh – traditionally used in preparing the dead for burial, as Jesus was after He was taken down from the cross. Have we come to terms with our mortality? Can we resist blaming God for how quickly the years speed by, how many aches and pains and conditions these imperfect bodies succumb to? Can we entrust God with our deepest fears, and acknowledge that, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s?

In the closing moments of our service, let us anew with the wise men, the ‘Three Kings’, settle our seeking and bow in reverence before the King who loves us so much as to lay His life down for us. May the Spirit show us how to surrender to our Saviour and Shepherd. Let’s pray.