Behold The King Israel Never Expected
Israel thought if God would just relent and give them a King, they could become obedient to the demands of His covenant of Law (1 Sam 8). They were wrong. Nevertheless, ironically, it is the sending of a King that would climax God’s redemptive plan. Through Isaiah, God promised that a Son of King David would shoulder the government and establish God’s justice and righteousness for insufferable Law breakers like the children of Israel; and, it might be added, like each of us. This is the Seed that would be sown in the hearts of soiled sinners by the Father and He would do it by divine trickle-down. The seed of the woman would be the seed of Abraham, would be the seed of David, would be the seed of the Holy Spirit—born in David’s city—the humble, nowhere, little town of Bethlehem. Indeed, how still we see thee lie, for not much of any note has ever gone on there; until now, that is.
We have heard of the man born to be king. Here in Bethlehem, by divine condescension, the King—the King of kings—is born to be man. In the garden, we sought divinity and failed. But here, in Bethlehem, God seeks to become man and succeeds. With our efforts to be like God we became sinners. With God’s efforts, having become one of us, we are made righteous.
This is the Sacrament of the Incarnation, the foundational mystery of God upon which all the others rest. God takes up the human flesh we sought to discard. God’s Son and David’s Lord has come into the world to establish His everlasting government. Here He will execute justice throughout all the nations, but what is deserving and fair will be overturned. He will rule by grace and truth so that everyone gets what they don’t deserve. He will be declared guilty and sentenced to die on a cross, and we sinners will be declared innocent.
Good news, God will not be fair. All who insist on fairness can go to Hell!
Traveling with the shepherds to see this thing that the Angel announced, two sets of eyes are needed. Your ordinary eyes can behold what the prophet Micah foretold about a woman in labor who will give birth to a baby boy in Bethlehem (Micah 5:3). No specially trained eyes are needed to take in the ordinary props of the traditional crèche scene— the stable barn, the domestic animals, the feed trough complete with mother and child. These elements of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke can be seen by anyone who would make the journey.
But, the eyes of faith are required to see and appreciate what Luther understood as God’s penchant to use common worldly props and opposites to reveal Himself and carry out His redemptive work. In and with straw and clad in diapers, you are invited to behold and worship the One Isaiah prophesied; the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Here in these mundane elements of opposite, the Glory of the Lord is revealed. The now-born seed of the woman is the eternal Word of God, made flesh and here to dwell among us. The glory of the Lord is here in this Little One we behold Who cannot yet control His bladder. To describe what our ordinary eyes behold as a humble event is rather an understatement. Opposites indeed! This is a telling of the story fit for children’s Christmas programs in every age—nothing frightening or alarming here.
There is, however, another telling of the story. Today it might be called the director’s cut, because this edition came out later. It is recorded in the 12th chapter of the Book of Revelation. This version has never been depicted in Christmas card collections, but it tells the story of Christmas from the eternal perspective of Heaven and Hell...
A woman clothed with the sun and wearing a crown of twelve stars cries out in pain as she is about to give birth. Suddenly an enormous red dragon enters the picture, his tail sweeping a third of the stars out of the sky and flinging them to earth. He crouches hungrily before the woman to devour her child the moment it is born. At the last second the infant is snatched away to safety, the woman flees into the desert, and all out cosmic war begins.
Revelation is a strange book that often reveals together the events of Heaven, Hell, and earth. On Earth a baby is born, a jealous mad king gets wind of it and a deadly chase ensues. It is all about who is to be King of the Jews. As the plot thickens, someone is going to get crucified. In Heaven, the great invasion has begun; a daring raid by the Ruler of the forces of good into the universe’s seat of evil.
With Christmas, the cosmic drama begins. And as we move onward in the Church year, we follow the earthly abridged edition of the story, from the season of Epiphany to Lent, from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the wilderness to the cross, from death to life. And following the Apostle Paul, we call this story the foolishness of the Gospel.