The psalm we prayed announced “The Lord is King.”
For a few centuries in ancient Israel that was obvious: a glorious temple, powerful kings. But then the destruction of the temple, the fall of the monarchy, and the Jews a small people in the middle of brutal empires: Persia, Greece, Rome. In these empires “The Lord is King” expressed the pretty crazy hope that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would again show himself King of Kings in this violent world.
Our first reading speaks of that violence: “For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.” And it sounds like the Lord’s response is going to be pretty violent too.
And the King comes: Immanuel, God-with-us—as a baby, so helpless, so vulnerable.
Now, this baby grows, and we have the whole church year for this grown Jesus. But this moment, his manner of coming, is so important, because it shows us that he has no interest in being another normal king. Normal: using violence or the threat of violence to get what he wants.
In a few minutes we’ll remember, again, his royal self-giving for us, exalted in the cross, gaining our salvation. Not the usual conduct of the powerful, true?
So, this birth that we’re celebrating is both good and bad news.
Good news: the powerful with their lies and violence will not have the last word. Immanuel: God with us.
Bad news: that part of us that desires the moment in which God crushes our enemies—that part doesn’t have anything to do with this Baby. We have to let it go—and keep on letting it go.
Recall our second reading, ending with “zealous for good deeds.” It’s so easy for our culture to define these “good deeds,” and so to respond to our fears and anger with violence. No. We need to keep letting Jesus teach us by his words and deeds about that “good deeds.” And so Paul earlier in that reading:” training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions.”
And, so, learning from this Baby, the joy of this night can accompany us throughout the year.