On Christmas Eve we have three worship services to serve the overwhelming flow of members and extended family and friends who have come to hear the Christmas story once again. For all too many of them, the last Christmas Eve was the last time they were in church. Maybe they were here for Easter Sunday too, but if you compared the records, I think you would find its quite a different crowd.
Unfortunately, at least for the “once or twice a year” church goers, they end up hearing the exact same story year after year. The Gospel lesson for Christmas Eve, at least as I prepare the services, is always Luke 2, that more familiar Christmas story, the one we know and love best. “In those days a decree went out…” and all the rest.
Matthew’s Christmas story, on the other hand, feels more like a spy novel.
Matthew 2:1–4 (ESV) 1 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, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
Mystery and intrigue, angels appearing in dark bedrooms and in dark dreams, a crazy king lurking around in the shadows threatening to kill babies. This Christmas story, Matthew’s Christmas story it seems, isn’t really fit for the kids. (So please bear with me during the month of December as we slowly work our way through “Matthew’s Christmas Story: Matthew 1 & 2”)
Indeed, Matthew nearly skips right over the birth itself (see the transition between Matthew 1 and 2). There is no manger, no swaddling cloth, no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. Jesus is born with very little fanfare as Matthew, the Gospel writer, jumps right to the story of King Herod and the Wise Men. Did Matthew forget who the main character of his story was supposed to be?
No, indeed, that is just the point. While Luke is very good at helping us understand that the baby Jesus is fully and completely human – a human baby who needs his mother, his manger, his swaddling cloth. Matthew’s point is quite different. While this human baby is indeed “Immanuel – God with us,” he his also something more. A King. A king that would rival King Herod, the Emperor and the Empire itself.
Within four-hundred years after the birth of this new king, the Roman Empire that had both housed him and executed him began to crumble. And while there are always dozens of reasons why empires fall, most historians agree that Christianity itself was the greatest cause to the fall of Rome. People no longer believed in Caesar, or Herod, or Rome itself as king. They had a new one: King Jesus.
And he was more than enough.
In Christ’s Loving Service,
Pastor Steven Chellew