When the Birth of Jesus is Troubling

Many people object to the Christmas story because it is too fantastic, resembling something more like a child’s fantasy than a fundamental tenet of a world religion.

After all, in the story of Jesus’ birth you find angelic revelations to both men and women that occurring in waking moments and in dreams, supernatural speech loss, virgin birth, astronomical signs, and international intrigue.

Those things might be troubling for intellectual reasons: those with a materialistic world view are troubled by the supernatural element of events supposedly occurring in space and time.

Those things deserve a response, but that it is fantastic is not the most troubling troublesome aspect of Jesus’ birth. The book of Matthew in the New Testament records that when wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem asking about a new king of the Jews, Herod, the provincial king, “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him…” (Matthew 2:1-4).

Herod and others weren’t alarmed by the supernatural aspects of the wise men’s story, but they were alarmed by the threat this Jesus, this “king of the Jews,” posed to them. Why did the wise men perceive something thrilling, while others perceived something threatening?

It has to do with Jesus’ identity, and how his identity affects our identity.

God had taught Israel, through many centuries of national life together, about their identity and about their need for him. He gave them prophets to give the people his instruction (think of Moses delivering the Ten Commandments). In other words, they were ignorant. He gave them priests to offer sacrifices in their behalf. In other words, they were guilty and filthy. He gave them kings to protect them and rule over them. In other words, they were weak and rebellious.

The people were ignorant, guilty, and rebellious, so God provided prophets, priests, and kings. The trouble was that the men God gave as prophets, priests, and kings were also sinful humans, and didn’t always do the best job. In addition, they died, and had to be replaced frequently.

So God promised to provide Israel, and the whole world through them, a Prophet, Priest & King who would never fail and never die. This was the Messiah. This was who the wise men came to worship. This was who troubled Herod.

This is who should trouble every single person. At least, initially.

For the arrival of Jesus to be good news, we must acknowledge his identity, and why God sent him. We must acknowledge our ignorance, guilt, and rebellion in order for his arrival to be thrilling. Otherwise, it is simply threatening; threatening our image of ourselves as smart, innocent (“I’m a good person!”), and self-sufficient.

But when we acknowledge our ignorance, guilt (by sin against God), and rebellion against his authority, and call on Jesus, Messiah, Prophet/Priest/King, to save us, then his arrival is thrilling and a cause for adoration, rather than threatening and a cause of agitation.

What does Jesus provoke in you?

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