The Displaced Character in the Christmas Story
by Kevin C. Peacock
A Strange Attraction
This past summer I was flying on a plane from Calgary to Chicago, and I sat down next to a Chinese young man who, at that moment, was putting in his earbuds. As he did I was thinking, “Well, I guess I won’t even have a chance to have a conversation with him.”
However, about 30 minutes into the flight, he took his earbuds out and we got into a conversation. I asked him what he did, and he said, “This Friday I will be graduating with my Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.”
“Really?! What is your field of study?”
I came to find out that Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is the “command central” for the Hubble Space Telescope. Each week this young man was looking through the most sophisticated telescope ever invented and seeing further and discerning more about the distant universe than anyone has ever seen before.
I’ve always sought to be well-read enough to be able to have an intelligent conversation with almost anyone – at least enough to be able to ask intelligent questions about their interests – so I started asking him about his work, what he has learned, and his personal research. He spoke about stars and planets and astral phenomena that I had never heard of – and I learned a lot through most of the rest of the flight.
I kept asking the Lord for an opportunity to speak of spiritual things with this intelligent young man named Bin. About 30 minutes before we landed in Chicago, I asked him, “Through all that you see and study about the universe, with all of the detail that you can discern through the telescope – is there order to it, or is it mass chaos?”
He jumped on that immediately. “Oh, there is a very meticulous order to it all!”
Then I said, “Do you ever ask yourself the big questions?”
He immediately responded, “All the time!”
That gave me a chance to open the Scriptures and explain to him what all of this creation means – how God, the Creator of the universe, is drawing us to Himself. Bin, an accomplished scientist, found himself strangely drawn to the Creator who made the universe he studied and was now calling Bin to Himself.
Matthew’s Christmas story has “strange” written all over it from beginning to end. It has an unmarried virgin conceiving without being with a man. It has an angel speaking in a dream to a humble carpenter of Nazareth named Joseph, informing him that his fiancé Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that she would give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. It has a “star” informing wise men in a distant country that a king had been born. The wise men went to Jerusalem to the palace, only to find that the “king” they were looking for was not there. The Scriptures told the magi that they needed to go to Bethlehem, the ancient city of David. The star led them to the place where they would find Jesus. The fact that King Herod and the religious leaders would not even be interested enough to go along is strange. Then, to top it off, the magi find a humble house, a humble dwelling, a humble poor family with a baby boy and still recognize this child as the Messiah, the long-awaited “King of the Jews.”
In Jerusalem, the magi thought they had reached the end of their journey, only to find that they would need to look elsewhere. What the wise men found in Bethlehem was not what they were expecting – but what they found was far more significant. They recognized it when they saw it – this “child” was the One they were looking for.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isa 60:1). God is here!
Just like Isaiah said, “the nations” came to worship – bringing their treasures with them.
They will bring gold and frankincense,
And will bear good news of the praises of the Lord (Isa 60:6).
Now God’s people could be brought back and restored, gathered from the ends of the earth. And with such redemption, “an everlasting joy” would be upon the heads of His people.
What Happened to Zion?
You see, what Matthew was communicating is what the wise men found out as they came to Zion – what they were seeking was not a city – it was a person. God’s hopes and projections for Zion would not be fulfilled in Jerusalem – they would be fulfilled in Jesus.
- Zion represented the presence of God on the earth – we got that with Jesus (“Immanuel,” Matt 1:23).
- Zion represented the rule of God over the universe – we got that with the One who was “born king of the Jews,” “the Christ (Anointed One),” the rightful “son of David,” the seed of Abraham (Matt 1:1).
- Zion represented the worship of God – it was where the temple was, the place where sacrifices were offered for the sins of people. That’s why the angel said, “Name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21)
- Zion represented the people of God – that’s what Matthew meant by “out of Egypt I called My Son” (Matt 2:15; cf. Hos 11:1). Hosea was referring to “Israel,” and Matthew well knew that, but Matthew was saying that Jesus is the true Israel. Jesus embodied everything Israel was supposed to be.
The wise men found out that what they were seeking (the presence of God, the rule of God, the worship of God, and the people of God) is not found in a place – it’s found in a person!
King Herod saw the birth of this King to be a threat to his own kingship. There was no room in his economy for a threat to his throne. As the story goes on, Herod had all of the male babies in Bethlehem under the age of two slaughtered to try to kill Jesus in the process (Matt 2:16). In no way would King Herod “worship” this Messiah – instead he wanted to kill Him.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that is very hostile to the Messiah born in Bethlehem. The psalmist said,
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!” (Ps 2:2-3).
But there is a verse in Isaiah’s prophecy that applies to King Herod and anyone else who refuses to submit and worship this King. There is something special about this child – God is doing something highly significant:
For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish,
And the nations will be utterly ruined (Isa 60:13).
As the psalmist said,
Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Ps 2:10-12).
If you choose to reject the Son, you will perish and face His wrath. If you embrace Him as your Lord, you will be “blessed.”