Well, the Christmas season is quickly winding down. We’ve enjoyed some engaging worship services and conversations throughout Advent, we celebrated the birth of Jesus once again, and many of us have gathered with family at planned events, and some maybe even had unexpected, surprise holiday guests – hopefully both of these brought fun and joyous times, but, unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
And now, after the high of the pre-Christmas, Christmas day and New Year’s rush of activities, for many it seems like the darker days of winter are really settling in. And I’m not just talking about the less light, and colder temps, although those are cause enough for depression in some people. I’m also talking about the news that greeted us over the holiday, once again leaving many reeling from the emotional, cultural, and political upheaval within our country and around the world.
Though 2000+ years have passed, at times like this, it seems that not much has changed in the world. There is still plenty of violence in our communities and across the country, that echoes the larger incidents of world leaders trying to exert their dominance over other countries through militaristic force, nuclear arms testing, threats of embargoes and sanctions, etc.. As a result, fear reigns supreme in too many peoples’ lives; many are homeless, hungry, and fleeing from the militaristic and terroristic responses – hoping and praying that where their unscheduled journeys take them will bring them to a safer place to live, one that will even provide an opportunity for a fresh start, a good life. Their flights mirror the one that the holy family made into Egypt in order to avoid King Herod’s vengeful acts. Into this world, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings has been born once again.
Today, we pause to celebrate Epiphany and the end of our Christmas season. Today, like on other days of Epiphany, we want to continue the sharing of good news of Christ’s birth. We want to talk about the coming of the Magi and the gifts that they brought. We want to hear of the gifts we receive through Jesus coming – Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. Yet, there is that very disturbing story of King Herod’s response enmeshed with the Magi’s visit. We try to ignore it, but it’s still there. We go so far as to not read those verses at all, or just read the ones where the Magi visit King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem asking to see the “one born King of the Jews.” We cut it off after King Herod tells the Magi that the new “King” can be found in Bethlehem, and to let them know his exact location once they have found the “little king” so he can go and pay his respects, too. Yet, unfortunately, there is much more to the story – a much darker side of the story that lurks in the unread verses just begging us to pay them attention, to heed their warning.
This week as I was reading chapter 4 “Where is the King?” from Timothy Keller’s book, Hidden Christmas, I expected that the text was going to focus on the Magi, their journey to see and pay homage to the “King” – not a king of their own culture or choosing, but one that God had placed before them, whose star they had read about and often wondered about, until finally they witnessed its dawning for themselves. The Magi willingly chose to follow the star’s path and see if the historical writings they had talked about and passed down for centuries were true; to seek out the one whom God has sent into the world, to save the world.
That’s what I had expected to find within the pages of the chapter. I guess I should have anticipated Keller would take the chapter to a place that was more radical and pushed me to a deeper exploration than I had previously contemplated on this familiar text. I didn’t expect that Keller would flip the story on me and focus the chapter on King Herod – and humanity in general.
I have struggled with this information all week and was not sure what I would share with you until I started typing this message on Thursday morning. Here are a few things that Keller points out in Chapter 4 that kind of slapped me across the face, and made we want to run in the opposite direction, to loudly proclaim that they were false.
Another point that I really struggled with was when Keller indicated that very few, if any people truly and sincerely seek after God (p69). Keller says that Christian theologians respond to this statement in 2 ways:
This is exactly what Keller is talking about in today’s chapter and message. We all rebel and deny God that final piece of ourselves.
As we begin a new year, may we be brave enough to fully open our hearts and minds to God’s presence in our lives, to let God fully transform us into the amazing, strong, loving people that God sees and knows us to be. May our lives fully reflect the light of God’s grace and love.
If we are brave enough to let this happen, then we will help fulfill what John writes in his 1st chapter…. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him….to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:3b-5, 10-13)
This year…. Let God into your life and let your Light Shine.
Together the darkness of our world cannot overcome the light and love of God in Christ, in us.
Keller, Timothy, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, Chapter 4: “Where is the King?” Viking – Penguin Random House, LLC/New York, NY, 2016, p63-78.