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       Sermons | Passionate worship

      This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

      Jan. 3, 2021 | Second Sunday of Christmas

      Three Kings
      Matthew 2:1–12

       T HIS IS THE STORY of three kings. Not the three you are thinking. Or more correctly, not only the wise guys from the east. We assume there are three wise men, Magi, or as the carol goes, “three kings of Orient.” Let’s start with them.

      We assume there are three because there are three gifts. But we don’t really know. Could be two. Could be four or ten. And they’re not really kings, even though we often speak of them as kings, and sing of them as kings.

      They are astronomers, scientists. They look at and study the stars. It seems they are also wealthy, based on the gifts they bring.

      † † †

      THERE WAS A BIG DEAL made about the “Christmas Star” this week. On Monday evening, just after dark, in the southwest horizon, Jupiter and Saturn looked close enough together to make on “star” in the sky.

      It’s really an optical illusion. Even then, appearing as one, they are 450 million miles apart. Without all the advance warning, I wouldn’t have noticed.

      † † †

      BACK IN THE DAY, the Persian (probably) astronomers would have noticed a strange change in the sky. Ordinary folks around the Middle East would have thought nothing of it. They are trained to star-gaze. And they see something special in the sky and interpret that to mean a new king of the Jews has been born.

      So, these kings go looking for the king. In humility, they search. As scholars, scientists, travelers, they look for the king to honor him, to worship him. The first king(s) of our trio bring gifts in humility.

      As they arrive in Judea they go to the palace. Where would a newborn king be except in the palace? Here they meet the second king — Herod the Great. Herod is always ready to meet with wealthy people who might enhance his power. Herod bears the title “King of the Jews.”

      † † †

      HEROD WAS a brilliant architect by training. There are a number of magnificent buildings and sea ports built during his reign, including the Jerusalem temple. He built a great fortified palace, Herodium, about 3 miles from Bethlehem.

      It may well be that it is in this mountaintop fortress that the “kings from the east” met King Herod to ask about the newborn king of the Jews. Herod built these architectural wonders at the expense of slave labor and exorbitant taxes that made him feared and hated by everyone.

      No surprise that tax collectors, like Matthew, were also hated. King Herod, the second of our kings, brings armies and power.

      † † †

      INTO THE CUTTHROAT, brutal, ostentatious world of first century Rome, God sends his son, Jesus, to be the King of his people.

      Jesus is unlike Herod. King Jesus turns the world’s concepts of leadership upside down. Instead of ruling with brutality, Jesus rules with love and grace. Instead of catering to the rich and powerful, Jesus focuses on the poor, lonely, forgotten.

      He’s a king. He is our king. He is The King. The throne of Christ was the manger: an impoverished infant hidden away from a murderous regime, squatting with his family among livestock, nursed and protected by his mother Mary.

      † † †

      THE THRONE OF CHRIST was the poor house. King of the poor. King of the lepers. King of the sex workers. King of the criminals. King of everyone so broke they had no choice but to engage in some shady business to survive.

      Jesus is King of the crucified. The throne of Christ was the cross. A king on a cross. A king assassinated by the most brutal imperial power the world had ever seen. A king executed by state violence in the same manner as rebel slaves. Not because he was meek but because he turned the world upside down, putting the last first.

      † † †

      SO WHERE IS the throne of Christ the King today? We know he lives. We say he lives. But where?

      ■ The throne of Christ is anywhere a homeless mother wraps her body around her children to keep them warm and alive as they sleep in their vehicle through the dead of winter.

      ■ The throne of Christ is in the love poor people choose to show each other in the most desolating circumstances.

      ■ Christ is King in the detention centers. King in the homeless camps. King in the prisons. King of the streets. King of the felons. King of the trailer parks. King of the projects.

      ■ The kingship of Christ is wherever people continue to turn the world upside down.

      † † †

      WHAT IS A KING? A king is a leader. A king is an authority.

      A king is a leader whose authority is believed to be, at least in some part, granted by God.

      When we choose to follow Christ the King, we make a choice about where we will seek out authority in this world.

      — Keith Cardwell   

      «Jesus is unlike Herod. King Jesus turns the world’s concepts of leadership upside down. Instead of ruling with brutality, Jesus rules with love and grace. Instead of catering to the rich and powerful, Jesus focuses on the poor, lonely, forgotten.»


      ►This is the Word of God for the people of God:

      Matthew 2:1–12
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      The Magi visit the Messiah
      2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] 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 when it rose and have come to worship him.”

      3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

      6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
          are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
      for out of you will come a ruler
          who will shepherd my people Israel.’

      7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I, too, may go and worship him.”

      9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.



      a.  Matthew 2:1  Traditionally wise men
      b.  Matthew 2:6  Micah 5:2,4

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