Summary: God arrives as the humble King to set up his rule in the lives of his people.
As you drive past churches during the next weeks, you will likely see at least one sign proclaiming, “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” It is a cute wordplay on Matthew 2.1-2: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”
Three wise men, iconic figures in Christmas Crèches, arrive in lowly Bethlehem to present gifts to the one born to be king. And wise men still seek him – if you are wise you will seek God in Jesus, and come and worship him.
We do not know exactly how these astrologers and astronomers from the Orient read the stars. We do know that David also saw that a king would one day be born and wrote of him in Psalm 24, a joyful anthem welcoming the great and awesome King of Glory! We may not, at first, equate this Psalm with Christmas prophecy, but the hymn, “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates,” (which we sang to God earlier in worship) is based on Psalm 24, and appears in our hymnal in the Advent section. Clearly, the second coming of Christ will reveal him as the exalted ruler; but he was born to be king, and at least some wise men saw royalty through the veil of humility.
I will read Psalm 24 for us, then we will see how David prophesied a King strong and mighty enough to win the greatest of all battles, the one with sin and death, and so saved a people to find what their souls seek – to worship God in his holy place.
[Read Psalm 24. Pray.]
Christian educators know Dorothy Sayers for her essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, a basis for the revival of classical education through its presentation of the medieval trivium. But Sayers also wrote a series of plays, the best known of which is, The Man Born to be King.
Jesus is the King of glory, but his birth hid that fact. Normally, when a son is born to the royal family and is, therefore, destined to rule, the surroundings and circumstances match the claim. His parents will themselves be obvious royalty – kings and queens living in palaces and treated to every lavish comfort. The baby will be attended by nurses and maids of the highest quality, and the baby’s bedroom will be sparkling and luxurious, filled with signs of royalty and marks of his promised future. Even the dignitaries who seek to pay their respects to the future king will be escorted by guards and servants immaculately dressed.
But Dorothy Sayers describes differently the visit of the wise men to baby Jesus, where nothing properly honored his royal blood or marked his future reign. The scene begins with a shepherd, dirty from the day’s work, coming directly from the field, leading the wise men to his home. Caspar, one of the magi, says:
Caspar: Is this the house?
Shepherd: Ay, sirs, this is the house. Pray, go in, and you’ll find the Child Jesus with his mother.
Wife: Come in, my lords, come in. Please mind your heads. I fear ’tis but a poor, lowly place.
Caspar: No place is too lowly to kneel in. There is more holiness here than in King Herod’s Temple.
Melchior: More beauty here than in King Herod’s palace.
Balthazar: More charity here than in King Herod’s heart.
Caspar: O lady clear as the sun, fair as the moon, the nations of the earth salute your son, the Man born to be king. Hail, Jesus, King of the Jews!
Melchior: Hail, Jesus, King of the World!
Balthazar: Hail, Jesus, King of the Heaven!
A king hidden under the humility of a shepherd’s house, a cow’s stall, and a sheep’s stench. What kind of king arrives that way?
The scene certainly contrasts starkly with Psalm 24, which is intended to be sung by the great choir, in the royal hall, with every inch polished and every person impeccably attired. As such, Psalm 24 especially proclaims the second advent of Jesus. But hidden in this song are clues to his humble arrival, his birth in low estate. The second verse of the hymn, “O Holy Night,” speaks well:
Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand;
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of king lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend;
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger.