Summary: 1. This kind of King elicits fear in us. 2. This kind of King inspires hope in us. 3. This kind of King makes us heirs with him.
Very often, at Christmas, we hear stories retold, like Mark Twain’s "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court", where King Arthur dresses in peasant’s garb and visits the subjects of his kingdom. The king lays aside his royal robes and privileges in order to identify with life outside the castle, and experience life as it is lived by the “common people.” The king is transformed by the experience, and the people now understand that he cares for them and has broken out of the castle walls. Those are great stories, and they do capture an important part of the truth about Christmas and God coming to our world. It means we have a God who cares and wants to be with us. It is the mystery of the incarnation. But there is another side to the story. In fact, it is an opposite side of the story that we need to understand as well. King Jesus has not only stepped outside his heavenly castle, in order to come to us and experience our life here, his purpose in doing so was to lead us back to his kingdom that we might experience the delights of his life as king. In other words, it was not so much to experience our life that he came, but in order that we might experience his life. It was important for him to come into our world, but his reason for doing so was for us to be able to come into his world. It is one thing to have a God who is willing to come and share in our suffering, it is quite another to have a God who is able to deliver us from our suffering. It is one thing to have a God who is willing to take on our identity, it is quite another to have a God who wants us to take on his identity. It is one thing to have a God who is willing to come to the squalor of our world, and quite another to have a God who invites us to step into the glory of his world. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).
I would suggest to you this morning that this is not always seen as good news, because it means that this king is like no other. For first of all: This kind of King elicits fear in us. That might sound strange to you, but consider the times when God has come to the world and invited his people into a new realm of existence. Remember the Israelites in Egypt. They groaned and complained to God about being slaves, and rehearsed to him the terrible treatment they received at the hands of the Egyptians. They thought God was as cruel as their Egyptian masters since he had allowed them to become slaves. But when the good news came that God had appointed a deliverer for them, and that they were to leave Egypt, putting their slavery behind them, they were not so sure they wanted to leave. They had adjusted to slavery. After Moses’ first visit to Pharaoh, the people wanted Moses to stop asking him to let them go. They discovered that leaving was difficult. Once they finally left, they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:4). In the book of Acts, Stephen retells the story. God had said: “I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. . . . But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us’” (Acts 7:34-40). And, by the way, the golden calf which Aaron made was one of the gods of the Egyptians. What is it in us that prefers slavery to freedom?
This is the question that haunts me. How many times have I seen someone whose life is in shambles? Their life story is one of despair and ruin, yet when the opportunity for a new life is presented to them, they turn away — not because they are not in need of help, but because they cannot imagine what a life of freedom would be like. How many times have I seen someone come to Christ and experience his presence and the glory of forgiveness, only to see them turn back to their old life of bondage because they were familiar with slavery, and freedom carried with it difficulties, responsibilities and work? Leaving a life of slavery seems harder than being a slave. The Israelites found their new life difficult and said, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (Numbers 11:5). (Not the kind of folks you want to get real close to!) Can you imagine? Fish and food at no cost? They had forgotten they had paid for it with their abject slavery. And of all the things to remember and long for! They were thinking of their appetites and remembering the food of Egypt, and forgetting the taskmaster’s whip and back-breaking labor!