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The gospel reading appointed for this morning comes at a bad time. We’re just four days past Christmas, with all of its “joy to the world” and “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” The Christmas spirit may not be as hot in us as it was on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, but the embers are still aglow and we are not yet ready for them to go out.
That’s why I say that the gospel reading appointed for this morning comes at a bad time. On the fourth day of Christmas we expect to receive “four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.” But instead we receive a death threat, an evacuation notice and a long road trip into exile.
The whole thing seems to be ill-timed. Lent seems like it would be a better time for this reading. But St. Paul tells us that the timing is actually just right. “The fullness of time has come…”
After all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we’re definitely ready for things to get ‘back to normal.’ All of those interruptions to the daily routine are fun at first, but soon, everyone is ready to resume life as usual. The older I get the more I’m bothered by interruptions to my routine and I long for things to get back to normal.
But with all of the distractions that we have been bombarded with over the past week, have we forgotten that Christmas delivered a baby to us? And wasn’t it exciting? Lights, singing, eating, celebrating. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.”
But as everyone who has had the experience of having a baby delivered to them knows, ‘a baby changes everything.’ Routines go out the window and your life is no longer under your control. The baby controls you and tells you when you may sleep and not sleep, and when you may eat and not eat. And you can forget getting “back to normal” for a long, long time.
So, as the Christmas season begins to wind down and the Christmas spirit begins to fade, it is terribly inconvenient and annoying to be reminded this morning that there’s still a baby to deal with.
Some may have already packed away the Christmas ornaments and taken down the tree and the rest of us will do so shortly.
And yet, dog-gone-it, after it’s all packed away and everything’s back to the way it was, the baby is still there. He won’t be ‘boxed up’ with the wreaths and centerpieces and lights. And there is no way to ‘return’ him to where ever it is He came from.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” How inconvenient. We’ve got agendas and schedules and things to do. And a baby doesn’t fit into our life right now. Maybe later when things slow down and I do some of the things that I want to do with my life. But for now, this is really bad timing. But as St. Paul tells us, the timing is actually just right. “The fullness of time has come…”
As it turns out, for all of the build-up and hype that preceded the delivery of this baby, He has turned out to be something of a ‘problem child.’ He complicates our lives in ways that no other baby has ever done. It quickly becomes obvious that He is the One with goals and an agenda and a mission to accomplish. “He shall save His people from their sins.” And He will do this on His own terms and on His schedule, as convenient or inconvenient for us as that may be.
All through the season of Advent, our attention was focused on this Child’s delivery to us, not as a helpless infant lying in a manger, but as the King of Kings breaking through the clouds in the sky, surrounded with all the angels in heaven to the ear-splitting sound of a trumpet.
The infant baby delivered to us on Christmas morning is this king. And He comes to establish His kingdom among us and in us. And this is just what makes this child such a “problem child.” As with any kingdom, there can only be one king. ‘You shall have no other gods.” “We should fear, love and trust in God alone.” All other kings must come down from their thrones and bend the knee to this baby and allow Him to rule over them.
And therein lies the problem that we have with this baby. The POWERS THAT BE are threatened. Those in positions of authority become defensive. The Psalmist saw it coming. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (Ps.2:2-3)
This little baby threatens each and every one of us. Each one of us, deep down inside, underneath all of the show and pious pretense, believes that we are the rulers of our life. “I am the captain of my own ship.” “I am the king of my castle.” “I determine my own actions and set my own schedules and chart my own course through this life.”
“Yes, I will gladly heed the counsel and guidance that this baby king offers me, as long as it seems practical and beneficial to me, and as long as it is convenient. Because, as you know, I like my routine.” Joseph’s radical obedience to the angel of the Lord that completely overthrows all sense of normalcy and structure is just the kind of surrender to God that we want no parts of.
Whether or not we REALLY have the kind of authority and control over our own lives that we think that we do is highly questionable. But we are not interested in reason really. “Truth” is what we perceive it to be. And our perceptions are powerfully shaped by the culture in which we live. With our lips we confess the Creed of Nicea and the Creed of the Apostles. But in our heart, which we are convinced is what really counts, “Believe in yourself” is our ultimate creed.
And we are adamantly opposed to giving up our autonomy to another ruler who wants to rule over us and plot the course of our ultimate destiny. Even if He says that the destiny that He has plotted for us is eternal life in heaven.
This baby comes with a reputation that has been passed down from generation to generation; from prophet to prophet. The word is out. He has come to save us. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, A SAVIOR, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The fact that He comes to ‘save me’ is offensive to me because; it means that He thinks that I cannot save myself; that I have captained my own ship onto the shoals and am shipwrecked.
King Herod sees the situation more clearly that we do. Or, we see ourselves more clearly through King Herod than we dare to admit. Herod may be the villain of the Christmas story, but we all follow his lead in our own time. This baby threatens him and his rule. There is no room in his kingdom for two kings. One of them must go. The baby must be killed.
It’s the same with us. Either I, and all of my faith in myself and my authority to rule over my life and this world must be killed. Or this baby must be killed. There is no room in my kingdom for two kings. One of them must go.
And that’s just what happens. But not in Herod’s time. For all of his supposed rule and authority over his kingdom, Herod is soon to learn that he is not nearly as ‘in control’ as he thinks he is.
“The fullness of time” is not ‘filled up’ for another 33 years. At Calvary, Herod’s bloody business is finished. The baby born of Mary is killed, because as we all know, a kingdom only has room for one king.
Maybe now, we can finally get on with our lives and get back to our regular routine. The inconvenient baby born to us is dead. It was an unpleasant necessity, but it had to be done, because I must remain in control of my life.
I can’t let someone else usurp my authority to ‘call the shots’ of my life. I cannot let someone else impose His will on me and kill my autonomy. I will not allow this baby to rob me of my freedom.
And then, just when we thought we had taken care of business, there comes this word to our ears, “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” Just when we thought we had established ourselves as kings and queens of our life, independent authorities not to be overruled by anyone, even if He claims to be the Son of God, we discover that we are not nearly as in control as we thought.
The Psalmist saw it coming. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Ps.2:4-5).
The baby has come with an agenda. He comes to save us and to establish His kingdom among us and in us and to rule over our hearts and minds.
He is in control. He rules over His kingdom. He is the true King. And He will accomplish His purpose, even if that means that someone must die. By His death, He shows us that He is King of Kings even over death and Lord of Lords even over the grave. By His resurrection from the dead, He shows us that He is worthy to be MY King and the Lord of MY life.
Will you submit to His rule? Will you let Him be your King, your only King? Will you let His kingdom come to you?
This means that someone must die. And that someone is you. And that someone is me. We can die hard or we can die easy. The harder you resist and run from His rule over your life, the harder you will die. But resist and run all you want, your destiny has already been decided, “You shall surely die.”
The easy death is the one that you have already died – in your baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” “How can we who have died to sin continue to live in it?”
And in that same easy death, we were also “raised with Christ that we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2-4). He has charted our course and brought us to our destiny.
In the end, “every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2:10). We have all been overcome by the baby delivered to us on Christmas morning. Stop fighting and resisting His rule over your life. Die so that you may live.
The timing is perfect. “The fullness of time has come.”