Midweek Advent 1 – December 2, 2009
“Gold for the King”
For our midweek Advent series, we'll be looking at the gifts of the wise men from the east. These foreigners who worshiped the Christ-child brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Each week we'll be looking at one of the threefold gifts for how it connects to Christ's threefold office of Prophet, Priest and King.
I won't belabor the background of the story. You know the account of the wise men from the East, and how they followed the star to the baby Jesus. We usually think of three men, though it's really only their three gifts that are numbered. We make the wise men and their gifts part of our nativity scenes, even though they probably came over a year after Jesus' birth. Still, Matthew's Gospel, which intends to show Jesus as the true Messiah, is careful to include these strange visitors and their noteworthy gifts. There's more than just Christmas card sentimentality here. There's a profound message that answers the question, “What Child is This?”
Tonight, let's take the first gift, gold. We hear a lot about gold nowadays. Companies are even offering to buy your spare gold – you can send it through the mail. It still is today like it was then – a precious commodity, one of the most valued substances on earth.
So much so, that when John sees his vision of Heaven in the book of Revelation, it is pictured as a city whose streets are paved with gold. Likewise, believers in Christ are promised a golden crown of victory. The Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple were adorned with Gold, including the Ark of the Covenant, the very throne of God on earth.
Gold is also a likely object of our sinfully placed affections. The Golden Calf incident in Exodus reminds us of the many false gods we construct and worship. Money itself, earthly riches, whether gold or green, are just as much a temptation to sin. Gold usually means trouble for us in our sins and temptations.
Sometimes we think we bring some value to God. That our gifts are worth something to him. But if that's why we bring our gold, it's insufficient. God doesn't need our money, and it can't buy us his favor. Likewise, some bring their good works and lay them before him as if he's impressed by such filthy rags. No, there is no gold ring that makes this pig pretty enough for God. Instead we need him to give us something. We need him to do something for us. The good news is, he does just that. Jesus our king, gives us better than gold, and does for us even better than that.
If gold is associated with anything in Holy Scripture, it might first bring to mind royalty. A gift fit for a king. When the wise men come to worship the Christ-child, their gifts make a statement. They speak powerfully. This child deserves such gifts, he is worthy to receive this gold, because he is a king.
Remember they asked crabby old Herod, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Did they know who they were asking? Herod, who was appointed by the Romans to be king over the Jews? “Herod, where's your replacement? Where's the person who REALLY belongs on your throne?” No wonder King Herod was threatened.
Years later, Jesus would stand before another Herod. And while that King Herod wanted Jesus to do parlor tricks, Jesus gave no answer. He said little to that other earthly power, Pontius Pilate, either. Like a lamb before slaughter, he was silent. But he did tell Pilate this: “my kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight...”
No, Jesus is a different kind of king. Kings of this world hunger for power, glory and honor. Kings of this world have armies and troops and wage wars. Kings of this world amass riches and wealth and silver and gold. But not Jesus.
He came as a servant-king. He came to rule not our land, not to take our gold, but to rule our lives in love. A benevolent dictator indeed.
His authority isn't by birthright or royal lineage, though he had that too. Son of David, descended from Israel's great king of old. Even today Jews look back to king David as the pinnacle of their ancient glory. David's rule was mighty, and his kingship worth remembering. But Jesus is great David's greater son. In fact, Jesus is David's Lord. Jesus is David's savior and ours. Jesus is the one to whom David looked forward, and in whom he trusted.
This king, Jesus, does have an army - a heavenly host of angels, sent with his message, sent as his agents. He sends them to guard and protect us, and one day to gather the elect and execute judgment on the wicked.
Pilate confessed it in spite of himself, Jesus was and is a king. “This is the king of the Jews” Pilate wrote, and posted the sign above the cross. This king wears a crown not of gold, but of thorns. This king doesn't kill his enemies, he dies for them. This king is not of this world.
We are redeemed, purchased and won back from sin and death by Jesus. And our king redeems us with some thing more valuable than gold or silver. He sheds his holy, precious blood. He endures suffering, death, and the wrath of God.
All this royal mystery wrapped up in swaddling clothes – or perhaps by the time of the wise men, toddling around in Bethlehem. And when Herod, the king of this world, tried to kill Jesus, the holy family fled to Egypt. They probably paid for the trip with the gold brought by the wise men. And when Herod died, they returned, and God's plan of salvation in Christ continued to unfold.
It would lead to Nazareth, to Jerusalem, to the cross, to the empty tomb, and from Judea, to Samaria, to Rome, to the ends of the earth. For Jesus is king of kings and Lord of Lords. He is king of the Jews, but also king of the gentiles.
He deserves all our gold and more – for he gave us everything he had, even his life. And he makes us rich. He proclaims to us the Gospel – more precious than gold – the message of salvation through Him.
Until his second Advent, we trust our king to rule well. Seated at the right hand of God, he oversees all things for the good of his church, his royal priesthood. We anticipate the day when our king comes again in glory. For he promises us a crown of gold – a victory at the last, and a reign with him for eternity. What a gift! What a king! Amen.