"An Inconvenient King" - Day of the Epiphany
Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
January 6, 2018 at 7:15 PM
Central Passage
Matthew 2:1-12

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Epiphany – January 6, 2018

Matthew 2:1-12


An Inconvenient King


            Some two years have passed since the birth of Jesus. Though every crèche in Christendom contains the magi, they were not at the stable that night. Indeed, Matthew knows nothing of stables, or inns, or mangers, or shepherds. He knows nothing of a great census ordered by Emperor Augustus. He only knows that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, to a virgin named Mary engaged to man named Joseph, of David’s line. Joseph is wed to Mary, Jesus is born, and Joseph names him as the angel commands, adopting him as his child.


            So it is surprising, in Matthew’s sparse Nativity story, that several odd strangers should show up when Jesus is a toddler. Matthew doesn’t tell us much about them – just that they are “magi from the East.” They were not kings – even though the hymn we just sang says they are. They were more like, as Luther puts it, “learned professors”. They studied astrology, which in those days was like a science, not the basis for a silly horoscope in the newspaper. For them, the night sky contained portents of things already occurring. They didn’t foretell the future; they “forthtold” what was already happening. In the East, perhaps in Persia (contemporary Iran), these learned men saw a strange star – perhaps a planetary conjunction or comet in the constellation Aries, the constellation that governed the land of Israel according to their discipline. They then went, or perhaps were sent, to meet the newborn King of the Judeans.


            Herod and “all of Jerusalem with him” are shocked and frightened by this news. They were clearly unaware of Jesus’ existence; a portent in the sky of a newborn king signals an upheaval in the political order. By the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod, a wily political operator, was nearly 70. He had weathered several regime changes in Rome – from Julius Caesar to Antony to Octavian Augustus. He had overcome the resistance of the popular Hasmonean family in Jerusalem by marrying, or killing, or marrying and then killing their members. He was a paranoid man, obsessed with assassination plots and court intrigue. He had five of his sons and at least two of his wives killed. He was, by all accounts, a brutal, cruel, and cunning man, willing to go to any length to hold onto or expand his power. The same seems to go for the Jerusalem elites. We call Washington a broken system, but the political and religious system in Jerusalem was darker and uglier than anything we have seen.


            Jesus, quite simply, was not wanted. He was inconvenient. Like Satan in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, who said, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” the ruling elites in Jerusalem were so self-absorbed, so stuck on their power, that they could not countenance the thought of God showing them a better way. They preferred the hell they made for themselves than the kingdom of heaven that Jesus brought.


            Jesus wasn’t just inconvenient then to the ruling Jerusalem elites. Jesus is inconvenient today. Jesus is still present in our churches, our communities, our individual lives, offering us a better way – his way that leads to the kingdom of heaven. So often, we’re happy with our churches as just a social club of like-minded people. We come to church, we worship, we go home (or to lunch) happy. But Jesus isn’t about to let us forget about the kingdom once we’ve heard the words of life, once we’ve eaten the bread and drunk from the cup. Jesus isn’t about to just let us go on our un-merry way. Jesus gets in the way. And Jesus has being getting in the way of the people of the world for over 2000 years. Ever since he was a toddler, Jesus has been getting in the way of all of humanity’s best-laid plans to establish its own power; to make its own salvation.


            Jesus is an inconvenient king. And thank God he is, because if he wasn’t, he never could lead us to the kingdom of heaven. He never could make any sort of claim on our allegiance if he wasn’t inconvenient. He never could put the powers of this world, as dark and terrible as they seem sometimes, in their place. Because of Jesus’ inconvenience – his inconvenient timing, his inconvenient birth, his inconvenient teachings, his inconvenient miracles, his inconvenient crucifixion, and his inconvenient resurrection – Jesus can be and is the path to everlasting life in the presence of the Holy God, without fear.


            We enter Epiphany, the season of light, on this night. Christ’s light shine in your lives this season and always, not in the ways you want them to, but in the way that brings light to the darkest parts of your souls. God grant you and me healing in that light. And God grant us the faith to worship him, to be with him, to present ourselves to him as we are – as the magi did. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.