| Isaiah 9.6, NIV
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king!” Except Herod thinks he is king.
In the year of our Lord two thousand and nineteen, the president of the United States has made more than 13,000 false or misleading claims. Worse still, there are persons who identify as Christians and who will confess this morning that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” yet stand behind him (John 14.6). They believe that he represents their interests, that the agenda of the kingdom of God can be fulfilled through his campaign promises, that our faith in Jesus is determined by our support of him.
Angela Denker calls them Red State Christians. Three cheers for Herod, who claims to be “the chosen one” and has no problem leaving children to die at the border to ensure he has no competition. Because they have come to take our land, our jobs, our women, he says. Wall-to- wall news coverage of his failing administration, he surrounds himself with yes men and women and travels to rallies where the crowds sing his praises.
But what of Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise? Hers is the “first noel.” Mary sang,
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1.46-55, NRSV).
Depending on who is in office, how quickly we change our tune. We look at presidents as savior- kings, voted in to deliver us from one group or another and to ensure that our side rules.
Jesus’s words outlined in red, we still don’t know when we have crossed the line and we can’t get his story straight. But, he is the good news. “Go tell (that) on the mountain”! Because Herod thinks that he is the king of the hill.
Still, raindrops keep falling on his head. Having no interest in climate change even if it suggested the coming Messiah, he would not believe the report of the Magi. He does not trust the wise men. He doesn’t believe in science.
This is fake news. What star in the sky? No, this reality star has come to make America great again.
Paranoid though a self- described “stable genius,” there is plenty of room for him: homes, hotels, golf courses and other rental properties. All in his name, it all comes back to him. Persons stand in line just to be in the same room as him. Yet, Mary and Joseph will go door- to- door with Jesus onboard as we have no room for them. Jesus is coming.
He cannot wait. Mary cannot keep him in. Even if we will not let him in, he’s coming. Jesus, not Santa, is coming to town.
But, he will have to take a number and not even a backseat. No, Jesus, you cannot take the wheel. Instead, he will travel by way of Mary’s swollen feet.
During Advent, we celebrate the coming of God in Christ Jesus, smuggled into the world through the womb of a woman. She is considered the least likely to be used by God. She will pass by unnoticed. They will not check for the Savior there. Because God wouldn’t be caught dead or alive with a woman, right? But Jesus’s birth and resurrection are both announced by women, right?
So, why do we ask, “Mary did you know?” Of course, she did. The angel came directly to her, bypassing her fiancé Joseph because God did not need his permission.
Poverty- stricken Nazareth probably wouldn’t have been on our list. It did not make the list of the top ten vacation destinations. It’s no place for God in Christ Jesus to be born.
It’s no place to raise a Savior. Nothing good comes from there. It is not safe for God there. They are so sure of where God would be, where God could be. They are certain of where and with whom God should be.
They talk as if God only blesses America but the whole world is in God’s hands. Jesus and the world go hand in hand: For God so loved the world that Jesus was given. But we wouldn’t have seen him coming.
When Herod is raging on Twitter and the world’s leaders gather to laugh about him, God goes into hiding. It is dangerous for even the smallest amount of God to be present in the world, divinity in pounds and ounces. Jesus squirms and so does Herod. God in the flesh, Jesus gets under Herod’s skin.
But this is a given. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.” Still, Herod is crazy enough to think that he is God’s competition, that his hands are big enough to box with God. Jesus has come “to turn the world upside down” and to turn our definition of power on its head (Acts 17.6).
William Sloane Coffin wrote in Credo, “Individuals and nations are at their worst when, persuaded of their superior virtues, they crusade against the vices of others. They are at their best when they claim their God- given kinship with all humanity, offering prayers of thanks that there is more mercy in God than sin in us.”
The kingdom of God is here and its ruler is in a feeding trough. Jesus is not up in a mansion but “away in a manger.” Wrapped not in the finest of linens but in milk rags. This is what Isaiah predicted?
It’s unbelievable and if not for his declaration, it would have been unheard of. The prophet Isaiah offers Jesus’s birth announcement and his job description. Jesus will recite it in Luke:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4.18-19).
Jesus’s ministry is not good for a capitalist society, a tyrannical government, a prison industrial complex or a healthcare system that seeks to enrich pharmaceutical companies. Jesus is bad for business, principalities and powers. Politicians say, “God bless America” as if it is a given but it is better offered as a prayer request.
Persons don’t want to hear this from Jesus and they certainly were not interested in the visions of the prophet Isaiah. Walter Brueggeman writes in Preaching from the Old Testament under the subheading “Speaking in a Silencing Culture,”
“It is accomplished by the establishment of a monopoly of voice that limits what is said, and that silences voices that are too dissonant from the claims of the regime.” This would include prophetic utterances. “Thus, Elijah is termed by King Ahab ‘my enemy’ (1Kgs 21.20); Hosea is dismissed as a madman (Hos 9.7), and Jeremiah is accused of treason (Jer 38.4). These strategies of intimidation aim to discredit the prophet.”
Thus, the current occupant of the White House is not the first to attack prophets or resort to name- calling. It is an age- old and the time- honored tradition of insecure, incompetent, visionless and power- hoarding leaders.
Herod, a full- grown man, is threatened by a child, named the greatest person of all time. Herod is cursing and Jesus is cooing. Herod is pacing the floor while Mary is up all night with Jesus who has his days and nights mixed up. Jesus cannot walk and Herod cannot stand the fact that his kingdom does not have a leg to stand on because the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven has come near.
He fears that he will be overthrown and tosses and turns. Herod can’t get comfortable. The world is just not big enough for him and Jesus. One of them has to go.
Mary is singing Jesus to sleep and I hear the psalmist,
“Why do the nations conspire, and the people’s plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers band together, against the Lord and his anointed…” (Psalm 2.1-2).
Don’t they know that Jesus is God- given? This is not to be confused with our lifeless renditions of plastic baby Jesus, painted surfer dude Jesus, beige, black, brown, red, yellow and white racialized images of Jesus, Jesus loves the little children Jesus, bobble head or bodybuilder Jesus, Jesus Christ Superstar Jesus, the Tide with bleach commercial Jesus in “dazzling white” after the Transfiguration Jesus, Last Supper Jesus, the emaciated on the cross Jesus or the one that we just missed at the tomb. “He got up?”
No, this baby “is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Keep this in mind and govern yourselves accordingly. Amen.