The music is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. Gracie has decided her favorites are Three Ships and Go Tell it on the Mountain. For me it’s Joy to the World! I think we’ve had those three songs on a continuous loop in the car for the last three weeks… And I love it! Do you ever really listen to the words of Christmas carols? One of the things I love to do at Christmas is try to chew on the verses of the classic carols and unpack their meaning. That’s probably why Joy to the World is my favorite!
“Joy to the World! The Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room.”
Just in that verse we see in the season leading up to Christmas we are supposed to prepare room in our hearts for Him, room to receive the King. Christmas a few years ago, Doug decorated the pergola leading to our garden with a lighted star. One evening as we pulled in the driveway Gracie shouted: “Oooo! The star! Mama, let’s be wise men and follow the star to Bethlehem to find Jesus!” Such true words! One of my favorite Christmastime sayings is “Wise men still seek Him.” But, in order to be wise men (or women) we have to be honest with our hearts and confront the reality of Jesus’ claim to be The King. When you seek Him, you are not just looking for a little peaceful baby in a manger. Remember, the wise men (the 3 kings) were looking for a King greater than themselves to bow down to and welcome. The challenge for us is to do the same.
As we approach Christmas we focus a lot on the birth of the “baby Jesus” the sweet tranquil “silent night.” You know if we are not careful we can easily slip into “Ricky-Bobby mode!” If you don’t know what I mean, let me explain! In the movie Talidaga Nights every time Ricky Bobby prays, he prays to the “little sweet baby Jesus.” When he’s chastised by his wife that Jesus didn’t stay a baby he became a grown man, Ricky-Bobby blows her off saying: “I like the baby Jesus best.” Why? Because a baby seems so non-threatening, right? But, you know King Herod didn’t find sweet baby Jesus to be so non-threatening. In fact he was so threatened by this baby that he ordered the murder of all boys under the age of 2 in the town of Bethlehem. What’s so threatening about a baby? It was His claim to be The King. You see Herod was lashing out at that claim. Herod was saying—“No! I am the king!”
If it is true that Jesus is The King, what does that mean? What do Kings claim a right to? They claim the right to rule. They claim authority. They claim a right to allegiance and the submission of others to that authority. Hmmm— Am I living like He is my King, the King with complete authority and rights to reign over my life? Are you? This isn’t just the sweet baby Jesus— this is the man who claims to be The King and the right to rule in your life, the right to authority over you, the right to have your submission and allegiance above everything and everyone else in this world. And though He claims the right to all this, Jesus is the only King who does not demand and require your allegiance. The choice is yours. I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of times when I don’t want to give up that kind of power and authority over “my life.” I wanna sit on the throne! I wanna be the King. As Mel Brooks’ portrayal of Louie the XIV says in the parody film: The History of the World Part II: “It’s good to be the King!”
On a serious note though, one of my favorite preachers, Tim Keller says, if we are honest with ourselves, deep down inside we all have a “Little King Herod” in our hearts. The part of us that rejects Jesus’ right to be King over our lives and says: “No! ME! I’m the king!” Maybe he’s getting smaller and less powerful as we allow the Lord more territory to reign over our hearts, but your “Little King Herod” is still there gasping, trying to kill Jesus’ claims to be The King— Your King. You see, getting to the “heart” of the matter, this is why the coming of The King matters. It is more than just celebrating the birth of a baby, it is celebrating the rightful King taking His throne and His rightful rule in the world and receiving Him in your heart. I challenge you to do more than celebrate and worship the sweet baby Jesus, but to let Him be your King. Realize this Christmas celebration is not just a feast of “arrival” but marks a looking forward to the ultimate victory and reign of the One True King. Christmas is a reminder of who our King is and what His priorities are. What do I mean?
One day in April a few years ago Grace climbed on the couch and sat in front of our Nativity display. I realize you’re thinking— April? You seriously couldn’t get your act together to put Christmas stuff away before April?? No— actually there is a reason. I made the decision about 7 years ago to keep at least one Nativity on display in our home year-round. I did this after reading an excerpt from John Eldridge’s book Wild at Heart. In it Eldridge describes how most people think of Christmas as a time of joy and peace, the serene “silent night.” What could be more unifying and joyful than the birth of a child, especially the birth of a messiah who would bring “Peace on earth!” But Eldridge explains the tranquil scene at Bethlehem as something altogether different. He points out that in Revelation Chapter 12 the Bible describes a great battle between angels and demons at the birth of Christ. Revelation 12:1-10 says
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman…. was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads… The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations…. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God…. And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ….
When we read this we can’t look at the “nativity scene” the same anymore. We have to confront that when Jesus was born the spiritual realm was thrust into war. Eldridge says the birth of Christ was far more like God’s D-day Invasion than an olive branch extended on a silent night. (Eldredge)
Now, if you know WWII history, you know that once the U.S. joined Allied forces they set priorities for the war effort: “Germany First” and liberating Europe from the grip of the Nazis. From this priority came the D-Day Invasion. The Allies invaded at Normandy and stormed across the continent ultimately resulting in the Nazi surrender and the celebration of V-E day— Victory in Europe and PEACE! As a history teacher I think I’m safe to say part of that victory was because the Allies remained committed to their PRIORITY. Ok so what’s the point? We keep a Nativity on display in our home year round to remind us that Christmas is just the beginning and that we are in the midst of a mighty battle. It reminds us that Christmas was the launching of God’s D-Day Invasion and The King is steeped in the battle to liberate us! This King didn’t just send an army to liberate us, He led it! The King abandoned His throne to launch this mission. When I walk by and see the Nativity on display I am reminded that we are God’s first priority and His first love. And that makes me love my King all the more!
Listen to the verse from What Child is This? “The King of Kings salvation brings; Let loving hearts enthrone Him.” Do you see that— “let loving hearts enthrone Him.” The more you love the Lord the more you are able to let your heart enthrone Him, put him on the throne, instead of your “self,” all your selfish desires and the idols of your heart. How can we suffocate the “Little King Herods” in our hearts? Look at how deeply the King loved us- enough to lead the battle himself! When we see the reality of that we fall more deeply in love with Him, and we no longer rebel. We “raise the white flag” as the Chris Tomlin song says; and we kneel down and put Him on the throne of our hearts. When we surrender all to him what do we get? Peace! He is the Prince of Peace! Do you see it? Think of the landscape of your heart- your heart is like a kingdom! Every bit of territory we give Jesus in our hearts He reigns over with Peace. The little areas of rebellion that kick up can only be tamed by raising the white flag to the Prince of Peace.
And here is the amazing spiral effect of that: When we allow the King to reign in our lives that makes an impact on the world around us! We become part of His epic battle and Victory! We march forward pressing God’s Kingdom across the corners of the world we touch. Imagine what it would have been like for the people of Europe under the oppression of the Nazi’s for so long, when they heard the “good news” of the Allies invasion at Normandy, when they could see the hope of liberation and Victory! When we come to Christ we become the bearers of a Good News even more powerful! How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say… “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7) The King has come, victory is at hand!
At Christmas we are actually remembering and celebrating that WE are the focal point of God’s liberation effort. He has launched a massive invasion against evil on our behalf—the evil outside us, and the evil within us. The King has launched an invasion that leads to victory over death. This is why understanding and receiving the King at Christmas matters! And we can hold on to the promise that the ultimate liberation day is at hand— The real “V-E Day”— that is Victory on Earth… They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)
As Grace sat admiring our Nativity display she said to me: “Mama, I just want to sit here with Jesus for a while.” How could I interrupt that? And then I think: We are His priority, but is He ours? This is what Christmas is about; making Him the priority. I challenge you this Christmas, to prepare room to receive The King of Glory, and “Go tell it on the mountain:” “Joy to the World, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King! He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love….” This King abandoned His throne to rescue you. The wonders of His love are stretched out on the cross in the cosmic battle of all time. He is the Victory and His kingdom will have no end, because His kingdom is Out of this World!
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18: 36-37)
[And Pilate asked Jesus:] “Where do you come from?” (John 19:9)