What is the good news, the gospel, at Christmas? Very simply there is one basic message we are invited to announce: Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, is the King. Notice this text from Matthew 2:1-12; it is one of my favorite Christmas stories and I hope you take the time to read the whole:
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
First, there is a set-up at the literary level: Matthew tells us about King Herod in order to tell us that he’s about to come down and the son of Mary and Joseph will be enthroned.
Second, there’s a bitter edge to this: magi from the East, Jewish converts or not, are the ones who recognize Jesus as king — not King Herod and not the residents of Jerusalem or Bethlehem (which is just a bit southwest of Jerusalem).
Third, yet more: the Bible experts know where the Messiah/King will be born, but they haven’t the eyes to see he’s now born. Little Bethlehem has been chosen to be the birthplace of Israel’s messianic king.
Fourth, yet more: Bethlehem anticipates a theme everywhere in the Gospels: the unlikely are the ones God uses. This anticipates not just the many sinners who find the Messiah but the despised and disempowered Messiah.
Fifth, you can try but you can’t take down the Messiah until God’s own timing: opposition to Jesus begins as soon as he is born. This anticipates the cross.
Sixth, the powers don’t know the Messiah but God directs a star to “anoint” the Messiah as King.
Seventh, the Messiah King is adored and worshiped by Gentiles from the East — a powerful critique of the powers in Jerusalem. Gifts fit for a king.
Ah, it’s so fun to see King Herod’s plan foiled.
The Christmas gospel — it’s all here — is that Jesus is King.