Last night we celebrated Christmas on Cinco De Mayo. Sort of.
As we go verse by verse in Matthew as a brand new community of people, we found ourselves in the story of Jesus’ birth. Add a few Christmas songs, Christina’s Christmas cookies and a white elephant gift exchange (which did include a massive box of tampons and E. Smith’s actual licence plate) and it made me wish it were snowing. But more than anything there was this heartbeat growing inside of me as I looked out at these 20 people sitting in my garage that realized one day these people are going to be like my family. Those who were once strangers were going to become some of the most meaningful people in my life.
Those who were far away were going to be drawn near.
And that’s really the thing that felt like Christmas, because if there is anything worth celebrating as we look at this origin story of the King, it’s that He who seemed far away came near to bring close those who were actually far away. God became man to wrap his arms around me and draw me in. The God who seemed so far away, so quiet for so long, is here. As I let Matthew tell me about the birth of his true King it became so apparent that he wanted me to know one thing. The King has come. He’s here. The waiting is over. He finally came.
It’s hard to capture the magnitude of what this meant to Matthew. Part of it is connected to his genealogy. You see every one of those men were waiting. Abraham was waiting. David was waiting. They were all waiting. 42 generations are listed, and we know historically that there were more than that…and they were all waiting. But the waiting is over, because King Jesus is here. The true King is here.
The true King. It’s like you can see Matthew pause because he’s wondering how to explain a very complicated story. “But when Jesus was born, Israel had another king named Herod. He wasn’t the true king and everybody knew it, but he had a lot of power with Rome so it wasn’t a boat that many wanted to rock. Except for John, but I’ll get to him in a minute.” And instantaneously we see that Jesus the King was born into a power struggle. A spiritual and physical power struggle which is setting up the question that isn’t going to be answered quickly, “What is going to happen when the Kingdom of Herod confronts the Kingdom of Jesus?”
And it’s here that I began to see what mattered to Matthew about this moment. Lot’s of things happened when Jesus was born and if you want to gooshy stuff you really should be talking with Luke. It’s like Matthew steps back and says “If you saw it from a distance you’d realize that when Jesus was born it became the most catalytic event in the history of the world. It set off this chain reaction with Jesus at the epicenter.”
Jesus is the epicenter.
Matthew makes one thing very clear – when Jesus showed up it demanded a reaction. It demanded a response. He told me about Joseph and the choices that were in front of him. Was he going to trust God and marry this pregnant teenager to the shame of his name and family or was he going to divorce her and maintain his reputation among his peers? Jesus’ arrival demanded a reaction. Then Matthew told me about these powerful men from the East who studied the stars and saw something so wild they traveled at the cost of their own lives to find this King. Where they going to count the cost and find this child or was it simply too much work? Jesus’ arrival demanded a reaction. Then Matthew tells me a little bit more about King Herod and his discovery that “a new King” was coming. Just like Joseph and these foreign astrologists he had a choice to make. Was he going to believe that God was on the move to the loss of his own status or was he going to tighten his grip on the power he craved? Herod, like the others, had a moment where reaction was required. And sadly, Herod’s reaction was with the sword.
It’s like when Matthew was telling me about the events around Jesus’ arrival I knew what he was trying to tell me. I, like all of these men, was now confronted with the very same choice. In fact we all are. The arrival of King Jesus invites me into a response. Whose path will I follow? Will I side with Joseph and the mysterious travelers or will I side with Herod and protect the Kingdom I built with my own hands? Will I gently bend to my knees and worship this King?
Worship. It’s an interesting thing. Chords and songs, chants and liturgy and occasionally the oh so awesome light show. It’s this word that no matter how much we tell people we understand it ultimately means the 20-30 minutes of singing before some epic female pastor tell us about Jesus. You may have a boring dude as well, but same difference. You know, it’s the time we drink coffee and go quiet on the verses we don’t know by heart. It’s where we send those last texts before we sit down and everyone will notice. It’s where we stand in God’s presence and judge people for what they are wearing and lean over and say stuff like this to your spouse, “This song? Really? I hate this song.” (I actually did that about 5 weeks ago). But you know what I mean…worship.
I’m using slight hyperbole, but sadly I’m closer to the truth than any of us want to admit. I wonder one day what it will feel like to stand before Jesus knowing we perverted something so important. My prayer for you and for me is that we won’t have that day. That something inside of us would wake up and see that it’s not too late for us. We get to let Matthew invite us into a life of true worship.
True worship is a life that allows Jesus to be the epicenter.
I want that life. I crave that life. I want to give my life so that others can have that life. And you want to know what…something about the singing changes when this is your life. The songs become expressions from the deepest places of your heart. The moments become the cry for King Jesus to take his rightful place at the epicenter of your life. The words become the language of love to the one who loved us first. It becomes the time that you never want to miss…because there’s something about music when you mean it that becomes the most powerful language we have. And we start to give that language to Jesus.
So who is this Jesus? This catalyst who created waves throughout human history. This one that we may dare shape our lives around. Matthew does something very interesting. He tells us that Jesus actually has two names. And his names tell us something very important. His first name is Jesus, which is actually Joshua, which is actually Yeshua. It means the one who will lead you into the promised land. But this isn’t his only name, he was given another name. Immanuel. Simply translated Immanuel means “God with us.” And even though Matthew is just at the beginning of his story he looks at us and says, “Jesus is the one who has come near to take you to the promised land. This is what he wants to do. Jesus isn’t a static king. He’s here and he has a plan.”
Jesus came to be with me and take me to the promised land.
N.T. Wright talks about how Matthew is the left eye that saw the birth of Jesus and Luke was the right eye. When you put them together, you see the full story. Apparently John was what happens when you dream in your sleep after eating Taco Bell. And there is something amazing when you put these two viewpoints together. You see Joseph and Mary, shepherds and angels, Kings and travelers, and even some barn animals. They all find themselves surrounding a baby in a feeding trough. An impoverished King of a teenage mom in a lonely town. But around him was something spectacular. Creation leaned in, angels surrounded and the most broken of society came close.
There is another moment in the biblical narrative like this moment. Except it’s at the very end. Revelation 4. John has just shared his heart with all of the churches and starts the vision at the end…with heaven. Standing at the throne of God is a lamb that has been slain, a picture of Jesus. Surrounding this Jesus are these four wild creatures with eyes up and down their bodies. They have different elements of animals and creation woven together into a single freakish being. I remember being little and being scared to go to heaven because these things were there. Thankfully, John was just being weird. 🙂 These animals are symbol of creation. It was creation that surrounded this lamb. And around these creatures was God’s people. They were all there. And around them the angels. They were all together.
A little over 2000 years ago a baby names Jesus was surrounded by creation, people and angels and they worshipped. Jesus came to lead us back to where it all started. That one day all of creation and humanity and the angels will surround this King and worship. Why? Because he made all things new. Something wild and provacative is at place between these two scenes. Jesus the King, the baby in a feeding trough, the lamb was slain is taking me to a promised land. That promised land is the renewal and transformation of me to become the me he always intended. A me free of death and decay, and of sin and hatred, where I take my rightful place next to the one who created me as His son.
One day we will be right back where it all started, but the difference will be that King Jesus will have rescued us. He came to the broken to make all things new.
To lower the high places and exalt the valleys.
To make the rough places plain.
To set the crooked places straight.
To reveal the glory of God.
May you today celebrate Christmas, and don’t worry you don’t need any licence plates or tampons. But you do need one thing…to know that you were loved first. That there is a King named Jesus who stands at the epicenter of history. He’s inviting you to let him stand at the epicenter of you, because when he gets there he’s going to have a plan. He’s going to make all things new. May you become a worshipper who let’s God Immanuel take you to the promised land.