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Today our Christmas tree will get stuffed back into its white cardboard box. The garland will be wound into bundles and packed into plastic containers. The gifts we received will be hung in closets and tucked into drawers.
Christmas is over. I know. It’s that out-with-the-old-and in-with-the-new-time of year. But there’s one lingering lesson from the nativity that seems as fit for the New Year as is does for the advent season.
Matthew’s gospel details the flight and fury surrounding Messiah's birth. The cast includes a diabolical ruler and religious yes-men, a newborn baby and light-seeking astrologers. It’s a plot more twisted and telling than any blockbuster we’ve seen.
Tucked within the opening pages lies a bit of irony I’ve often missed. Twice Matthew calls his antagonist “Herod the King” (Matthew 2:1, 3). This is Herod the Great—ruler of Judea, rebuilder of Jerusalem’s temple, and reject of the Jewish nation. Despite the constant friction between Herod, an Idumean (descendant of Edom) whose ancestors were forced to become Jewish proselytes, and the Jews, he refused to relinquish his reign. Ironically he’s often referred to as “King of the Jews.”
Suddenly we see why the wise men struck a chord with this embittered man. They arrive at his doorstep and ask, “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” (Matthew 2:2).
Jerusalem erupts into confusion. The chief priests and scribes scramble to answer Herod’s questions about the Christ. The people worry over all the commotion. And the wise men venture closer to a quiet town called Bethlehem.
Amidst the chaos of the countryside, Matthew gives us our first glimpse of Israel’s true king. The wise men—once pagan astrologers who spotted a stunning star in the sky—stop over a simple Bethlehem dwelling. As the star rests, so do they. And while everyone else is troubled and angry, they’re filled with exceedingly great joy.
The men and their entourage dismount at the scene. They pull out precious gifts fit for the newborn King. As they enter the quiet place and gaze upon the baby’s face, they fall down and worship him.
It’s another of Matthew’s ironic twists. He reminds us that not everyone will worship this King. Often Gentiles and those from far away countries will be the first to recognize His reign.
In a world filled with wicked rulers and worried people, uncertain news and unanswered questions, Matthew’s story is real and relevant for us today. His graphic account challenges all of us to ask and answer—who’s the true king? And perhaps even more telling—how’ll we respond?
As we enter the New Year and wonder what’s to come for our world, let’s remember Matthew’s poignant story. Will we bow in fear before internet headlines and wicked world powers? Will we turn a blind eye at bad news? Or will we worship the true King and live our lives in light of His?
Let’s not fear headlines and heinous acts. Let’s fear the One who came to earth as a newborn King and rules with perfect certainty. Will you join me?