Isaiah 11:1-9, Luke 1:26-38
December 16, 2018
“The Unlikely King.” That’s my title for this message. My other thought was “The Boy Who Would be King.” Both give the idea of what happened at the time of Jesus’ birth. The Messiah who was to come was to be the future king of Israel. And that seems incongruous – unlikely – when we think of a baby boy.
It makes me think of the legend of King Arthur. Do you remember? In that story the young boy, Wart, did what the greatest knights of the land could not do. (What did he do?) He pulled the sword from the stone, and was thereby chosen to be king of all England!
I’m also reminded of one of my favorite stories, J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” In that rather long story, Frodo, the hobbit from the Shire, agreed to carry the ring of power to it’s destruction, and thereby bring freedom to all of Middle Earth. As it was said at the great council in that story, “This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and councils of the Great. Who of all the wise could have foreseen it?”
I love that! And while we’re thinking about the unforeseen and the unlikely, let’s add one more story, the story of the shepherd boy, David, the least of the sons of Jesse. Yet it was he, and not his older (and stronger) brothers, who was anointed by the great Prophet Samuel to be the future king of Israel. (I Samuel 16) And and we know, he would be the greatest of all the kings of Israel. And of course David was the king from whose lineage would come Jesus himself.
And that brings us to perhaps the most “unlikely king” of all! Because this is now the third of the three “themes” of Advent. This is the theme which remembers the coming of Jesus into the world. This is when we look at all the prophecies and stories surrounding that event. And as I said already, this is the theme of Advent we think about the most.
Just to remind you, the other two themes are – and these are in no particular order – the events at the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry, and his promise to come again – that which we call “The Second Advent of Christ.”
Today, we look at the First Advent. That is our theme. Today, we think about all the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. And here we find that same idea I was just talking about, the unlikelihood of the one coming to be king. Here, in this story we have this baby, born to a peasant family, lying in a manger, in a barn, (or a cave,) right among all the animals.
I want us to try to picture that today. Because I think we tend to idealize that part of the story. That whole “manger thing” is just part of the picture. We fail to see the extreme contrast we have here, when we compare that picture with the importance and power of God’s Messiah! Here we have this “child,” this “boy who would be king.” And yet here we have what the angels told the shepherds, “A baby – a newborn – wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger! Lying in a food trough for the animals!” Just imagine how that scene, described by the angel, would have sounded to those shepherds! I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that one this week! And it’s hard!
That humble beginning of Jesus’ life seems completely incongruous with some of the words prophesied by Isaiah:
And the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
We know those words, don’t we? They’re part of the Advent/Christmas celebration every year. But I wonder. Do we make that connection? Knowing those lofty words like we do, is it hard for us to think of the Messiah as a baby born to a peasant girl? What do you think Mary and Joseph thought about all this? Do you think they knew those words of Isaiah?
Today we read what the angel Gabriel said to Mary when he told her what I’m sure was shocking news, that she was going to have a son! I don’t think we see that part, either! After explaining how that was all going to happen, he said about this child,
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)
Do you think she was thinking about that? Then, when the shepherds came to see the child, and they told Mary and Joseph all that they had seen and heard, and what the angels had said to them, Luke tells us that Mary “Kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” I’ll bet she did! I’ll bet it took a while to “sink in.” I’ll bet it took a while for her to understand the importance of all of this. I’ll be it took a while for her to see “the big picture.”
And I’m thinking, maybe we need to “keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts,” too. Because I think they do sometimes become too “routine,” too much “just part of the story.” I’m thinking we need perhaps to “tweak” our mental imagery, to see the great contrast here, and to try to “wrap our heads around” this.
That’s what I want us to do as we draw closer to Christmas. Think about the great contrast, the unlikelihood of this coming king. Hear again these words of Luke. And of course, hear the voice of Linus, telling us of this story. “And this shall be a sign unto you. You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” Think of that humble picture. Then contrast that to his next words, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, singing ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace among all people.”
Eternal God, help us to see more clearly the wonder of the Christmas story and your great love for us. Help us to keep these stories in our hearts, and to ponder them, throughout this season. Help us to know the joy of you salvation, your Savior who came to be one like us. For this we pray in his name, Amen.