Christmas is a time of nostalgia when family and friends get together. Cute and serene can be words to describe this time, but Christmas and the birth of Jesus was anything but serene. The birth of Jesus was an act of war against the Empire of this world.
Christmas season is a time of family, joy, and nostalgia for many people. Whether it is gathering around a tree and exchanging presents or eating a large meal, people have traditions and feelings about Christmas that they relive every year. Most churches have a cute, nice, and serene story told every year. While this sentimentality is not a bad thing, it can become a bad thing when it becomes the meaning of Christmas.
According to the New Testament authors, the birth of Jesus was an act of war. This act was aimed at Satan and his fallen angelic army. Jesus was born to defeat the devil, free creation and humans from his grasp, and establish His loving Kingdom on Earth. Jesus’s birth and act of war, however, would be anything but cute, nice, and serene.
From the Gospel of Matthew, we learn that Jesus was born when a man named Herod was king. Herod was a king who had a reputation of violence, suppression, and greed. When Jesus was born, three magi made a trip to see Him, and along the way they naively thought that Herod would want to know who this child was. Herod was indeed intrigued by what they said, but only as a defense to his power. Herod meant to kill Jesus when He was born. So you see, the story of Jesus’s birth is a story about a world in bondage to dark powers that Jesus had come to set free.
Herod was the epitome of power, wealth, and fame as the world defines it. Herod’s empire was built on the power of suppression and paranoia. He ran a veritable “police-state” where he had spies all over his territory. Anyone suspected of disloyalty were executed, including one of his wives and three of his sons. Some say that Herod was one of the richest people to ever live. He lived in unprecedented comfort, and if you were to take a tour of Israel, you would be touring all the buildings that he built in honor to himself. Herod also demanded fame so that everyone would know who he was. In fact, when he heard that Jesus was to be the new King, he had every child in Bethlehem killed that would have been near Jesus’s age. Jesus was born into this world to confront this ideology of power, wealth, and fame.
Jesus was born to promote the Kingdom of God, which is in direct conflict with the kingdom and ideology that Herod promoted. Herod was right to be afraid his way of life would be turned upside down with the coming of Jesus’s Kingdom. Future Christians would subversively use the terms that promoted Herod and Caesar’s kingdoms to promote the Kingdom of God. Anyone who followed after Jesus would not buy into the ideals of power, wealth, and fame that Herod bought. Anyone that signed up for Jesus’s Kingdom would be revoking their citizenship in Herod’s kingdom. For us to sign up for the Kingdom of God means that we too revoke the idea of power, wealth, and fame that the world defines.
Revoking the world comes with its risks. Herod sought to kill baby Jesus because it was a threat to his kingdom. When we live in accordance with Jesus’s Kingdom, the world will fight back and try to destroy us just as it tried to destroy Jesus. What Herod and no other Kingdom can understand, however, is that the Kingdom of God can’t be destroyed by taking away its worldly power, wealth, and fame. In fact, Jesus fought the worldly empires by giving up worldly power, wealth, and fame. God gave up His power to become a baby, gave up wealth by being born to a poor family, and gave up fame by being born to an out of wedlock mother. The Kingdom started and fought the kingdoms of this world by becoming a humble carpenter, not killing opponents, not controlling or coercing, and proclaiming national boundaries have no significance. Which is why Herod’s empire couldn’t extinguish Jesus’s Kingdom—their way of doing battle had no effect on Jesus’s Kingdom.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to live the same way that Jesus lived. We are called and empowered to live and wage war against power, fame, and wealth. Even though it seems crazy, this is the most beautiful way to follow after Jesus, and God promises that one day the world will be remade so that power, wealth, and fame won’t be defined by worldly standards. Even though we continue to wage war against the Devil and powers of this world, Jesus is victorious. This is the reason that we celebrate Christmas: we remember that we are still waging a war and called to overthrow the empire that is built on power, wealth, and fame.
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