From December 2017 through February 2018, I wrote a series of short articles for MennoMedia’s Adult Bible Study Online. Over the next three weeks I will reproduce those here in my blog. Here is the article for December 24, 2017, based on Matthew 2:1-12.
This is a tale of two kings, with two very different kingdoms.
The first is “King Herod,” known to history as “Herod the Great.” A ruthless tyrant, he murdered a wife and some children out of jealousy and suspicion. He is known to history as “the Great” because of his grand building programs—built intentionally to increase his fame, a vain attempt at immortality. Herod had been pronounced “King of Judea” by the Roman Senate. He seized on this title, and despite his impure lineage and dubious religious devotion he called himself “King of the Judeans”—that is, “King of the Jews.”
The second is a baby, called “king of the Jews” by others—he would never, at any time in his life, claim the title himself. This king was born in questionable circumstances himself, though his lineage from the great Israelite kings of old was secure (Matt 1:1-25). He would become known as a prophet like Elijah, speaking truth to power while lifting up the lowly through merciful miracles. He would become known as a teacher like Moses, giving divine instruction from the mountain and further explanation along the way. He was the Messiah, the promised Jewish king who establishes God’s kingdom on earth.
Herod’s kingdom represents the way of the world: concerned with power and privilege and prestige for the few, to hell with the weak and the lowly. Jesus’ kingdom represents the way of God: concerned with compassion and equity and true life for all, to hell with the rich and mighty—should they continue their hellish, destructive ways.
It is precisely at the conjunction of these two kingdoms in history that the Magi arrive on the scene. They are seekers of secret wisdom, and they have seen the signs: a new kingdom is dawning, and the old kingdoms of this world are fading into obscurity. And so, they do what any wise person would do: they pledge allegiance to the greater king and his divine kingdom, child though he be. They offer their kingly gifts to the only worthy king they have met on their journey.
The conflict between these two kingdoms occurs in every generation. The kingdoms of our world—the world’s ways of establishing human relationships, of organizing and governing societies, based around power and privilege and prestige—these kingdoms continue with ever-fading allure. We hear stories of sexual abuse, political deceit, oppressive legislation, and deadly foreign policy—these are the hallmarks of Herod’s kingdom, stumbling into self-destruction.
Yet God’s kingdom—with relationships characterized by humble compassion and geared toward mutual flourishing—this kingdom is evident among us with ever-increasing glory. Will we follow the Magi in bringing our gifts to Jesus, pledging our allegiance to this greater king and his divine kingdom of justice and peace and flourishing life for all?