Matthew’s birth story concerning Jesus involved, as you may know, three men who came representing an unnamed eastern Kingdom, each bearing a gift for the Christ-child. Historically, these were the first ever Christmas offerings. They were part of the first Christmas worship service concerning Jesus, the new Kingdom leader born beneath the great heavenly Light above the land of Judea. They gave an offering of gold, incense, and myrrh as they bowed before this new King.
The importance of this story for the Jews to whom Matthew was writing cannot be understood apart from the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, where we learn the meaning of men coming as representatives of eastern kingdoms into the land of Israel or Judah. By history, such men came not to give but to take. By this I mean the taking of prisoners as slaves into exile. Eastern Kings, specifically from Assyria and Babylon, came not to bow down but to beat down. Not for worship but for war. And when the Jewish people saw such high officials coming from the east, their own Kings were taken from and not given to. Now, with the birth of Jesus, Jewish history was turned upside down. Now the eastern emissaries were no longer oppressive but submissive.
Such is the power of Christmas.
It was so for the Jews of the 1st century. It is no less so for us in the 21st century.
A word often associated with the Kingdoms of our world is “control.” Those of us who live in a nation without any royal traditions or acting King or Queen may hardly understand the word “Kingdom,” but we all understand the word “control” and its meanings. By our most wishful and magical thinking, we each fancy ourselves as being “in control” and, especially where circumstances are not of our liking, we would each like to “take control.” A great part of today’s western culture in December of 2015 involves a fear of losing control to forces of big government or big business for some, big terrorism or big war for others. Or all of the above for many. Fear. Then anger. And the desire to take control.
In that we are perhaps more like the traditional Old Testament Kings from the East. Given the choice of give or take, we’d rather “take control over others” than give control to a new King in some foreign land. Like the one born on that very first Christmas.
What if that new King, the Christ of Christmas, came Himself representing not any earthly King for the purpose of taking control but rather the Heavenly King above, like the Star itself, and here only to give but not to take? Only to cause love but not fear? Only to influence others but not control others? Only to offer peace but not to threaten war? Such was the significance of the three Kingly representatives from Matthew’s birth story. As they came to see this new King, they, too, were made new. So new as to turn the very traditions of Eastern Kingdoms upside down. So new as to now represent the heavenly Kingdom and to identify with this new infant King Himself. Yes, these three men were made new!
The Christmas story has the power to make us new as well!
The New Testament’s Christmas narratives tell of God’s own new Kingdom. Even God Himself is made new! His is now a Kingdom of giving rather than taking. Now a Kingdom of influence rather than control. Now a Kingdom of serving rather than being served. Now a Kingdom of love rather than fear. Now a Kingdom of peace rather than war.
Advent is a journey to this new Kingdom. Heaven’s Star Light has come down. If we go there, like all who made that original journey, we too will be made new. We must choose whether to go or not. It’s a matter of give or take.