|What kinds of events accompany the coming of a king?|
A meditation for Christmas
What does one expect at the arrival of a King? Here in the America, while we have celebrities that are treated as royalty, we have no legitimate king who rules from a recognized throne. But we have a wealth of images from both history and fiction. The below painting of the arrival and reception of King George V and Queen Mary at the West Door of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, Jubilee Day, 6 May 1935 confirms common notions of the pageantry, pomp and circumstance that accompanies the coming of a king publicly to his people.
In such situations the long desired king is invariably accompanied by:
- The announcement of his arrival
- A delegation -a host of representatives from his kingdom – showing his strength
- The arrival of the king – In proper adornment
- The Adoration of his people
- The recognition of foreign dignitaries
If that is the case with an earthly king, what should we expect if the king of the universe were to arrive on earth? Would we not expect all that and more? In addition to the pomp and circumstance given an earthly king, we’d expect the king of the universe to uniquely mark his arrival by stamping upon the universe itself the sign of his coming – much as an earthly king would use the royal signet ring. We’d expect to see a sign in the heavens and a sign on the earth – something beyond human doing that marks the arrival of the king, the creator.
And this is precisely the pattern we see with the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem all those years ago. Here is how history records the first arrival of the king of the universe.
The Announcement of his arrival:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2. 8-11
Followed immediately by the delegation:
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
The Arrival of the king – in proper Adornment
Here we see a slight departure from expectation due to the extreme grace and understanding God showed during his first public visitation while “veiled in flesh” as the hymn says. Understand, God could have arrived in all his glory and power as the king of the universe. That certainly would have been appropriate. But we must recall of whom we speak – the God of the universe in whose presence sin cannot exist. The last time God came with the fanfare of trumpets, and the pyrotechnics of lightning and thunder atop of mount Sinaii, he nearly scared the people to death. (Ex 20.18-19) That reaction from the people on a mission of peace and salvation would never do. How then to present himself in a way that will not scare them, but draw them? Who is not attracted to a baby? Especially a royal baby – he who will be King? And so it is the king of the universe came not in the finery or majesty and power of a king. Rather he came adorned as an innocent baby. He made it easy for people to be in his presence. In fact he made it so people would want to be in his presence as the above painting of the “Adoration of the Shepherds” depicts:
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”… 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2.12, 15
The Adoration of his people
And thus it was shepherds who were among the first to receive and adore the king at his arrival:
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. … 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2.16, 20
The recognition of foreign dignitaries
And of course the visit from foreign dignitaries.
2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Sign in the Heavens – the star of Bethlehem
And what of the signs to mark his coming. As is common with God’s display of his power, the miracles that accompanied the king were not grandiose displays to be witnessed by thousands. Many of his miracles were intentionally witnessed personally by just a few people. Consider the first miracle of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. The actual witnesses to the water that had been turned into wine were a mere handful – the master of ceremonies and the servants carrying the large wine. So it was with the miracles of his first coming.
Of course there was the star – that mystical star whose origin is still debated. Was it a natural phenomenon? Was it result of a direct, miraculous work of God? Scholars still debate that. What is undeniable however, is the timing, and the effect. Consider how every year on New years eve, a brilliantly lit ball falls in Times Square at the stroke of midnight marking the beginning of a new year. It does not take wise men to figure out that that whole new year’s eve event is carefully planned and orchestrated. And so it was with the star of Bethlehem. Whether God used natural means or supernatural means to create the star, the clear lasting impression is that the whole event was orchestrated to announce the coming of the king.1 And though wise men were the first to figure out the star’s significance, every generation after their pronouncement has since recognized it’s significance: a king worthy of worship has arrived:
2b We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” … 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared…9 they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Matt 2.2b, 9-10
Sign on the Earth
Here is another miracle where direct witnesses to it are few. In fact for this particular miracle, there are only two witnesses: Mary and Joseph. Some would argue only one. The rest must see such miracles through the eyes of faith. Yet this is the miracle that most clearly identifies the coming of the King of the universe. God arranged it that way so we wouldn’t miss it. This is the miracle of Immanuel – literally “God with us”. The miracle is unique – a virgin birth. A unique name for a miracle, but appropriate to the unique son of God and the occasion:
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us.”
All things considered, there is no question that the King of the universe arrived in a manner befitting a king. It was clear to the wise men who sought him all those years ago. And it is clear to the wise people who seek him today.
1 A number of theories posit that the star was the conjunction of a number of heavenly bodies. Even if true it would require foreknowledge and the manipulation of events in both the heavens and on earth to have the king of heaven arrive at the precise time of such a conjunction.