December 25, 2003

The irony of the cradle

He was born in a stable, situated only a few miles away and practically in the shadow of the palace of the king.

His given name was totally commonplace.

The most important dignitary to attend his birth was a shepherd.

The king sought his death, but not his death in particular; the king simply hoped that the arbitrary slaughter of all infants would eliminate the one infant he feared.

He outlived the king by escaping to a country where centuries before another king had enslaved his ancestors.

But although no one understood it at the time, this child, born behind an inn was a king.

His ancestor Abraham was promised that kings would come from him. Abraham's great-grandson Judah was promised that the sceptre would remain with his family forever. Judah's descendant David, a king, was promised that a descendant of his would possess the throne perpetually. And on that dark night two thousand years ago, the Son of God, the King of Glory, set aside his royal rights and was born into a poor family behind an inn in Bethlehem.

Jesus sought no earthly power, but he made other kings fear for theirs. He was put to death on a criminal's cross because someone claimed he said he was King of the Jews. And yet in that apparent defeat, Jesus proved he was king even over sin and death by rising from the dead. Now he rules his kingdom from heaven at the right hand of his Father: not a kingdom of land and borders, but in the hearts of a billion followers all over the world, those who call on his name. A day is yet coming when all men will be compelled to confess what he truly is: the King of kings and Lord of lords.

This is the irony of Christmas: this humble babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, was - and is - the greatest King of all.