Advent, week 3: Joy.

When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matt 2:3)

A few years ago I noticed a small detail in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. When the wise men from the East come to Jerusalem and ask where the newborn king is, Matthew tells us that “When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” The piece I want to focus on is that last phrase: “and all Jerusalem with him.” Why on earth would the Jews be disturbed by this news? Israel had eagerly awaited the birth of the Messiah for centuries. At this time they are under the unwanted thumb of the Roman empire, ruled by the illegitimate king Herod. It makes perfect sense that Herod would be afraid – he knows that he is not the rightful king, and he knows that the people know it. News of the birth of the rightful king could start a riot or even a revolt. Herod was right to be disturbed by this news. But why would Israel be disturbed by it? Maybe they were afraid of what Herod would do. Maybe they were afraid of what Rome would do. Whatever the reason, this is not the right reaction.

Matthew includes this detail to foreshadow that Jesus will not be the sort of king that Israel expects him to be. When he hears about the King’s birth, Herod asks the Jewish religious leaders to teach him about the King’s coming. They are the experts, after all. They have studied the scriptures, and they know all about the coming King, the Messiah. And yet these leaders are the very ones who will later have Jesus executed. Jesus didn’t line up with their expectations for the coming King.

Jesus doesn’t line up with our expectations today either. He teaches things that we don’t want to hear. He makes demands that we don’t want to obey. Maybe it’s when Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that the command to “love your neighbor” includes even the political or ethnic or religious group that you cannot stand to share a nation with – or when he adds that this person might just prove to be the better neighbor of the two of you. Maybe it’s how he tells us to use our money. Maybe it’s when he teaches that glory is found not in power but in weakness, not in ruling but in serving.

How do you react when Jesus doesn’t line up with your expectations? Are you unsettled or afraid? Do you protect yourself by rationalizing it away? “‘Love your neighbor’ doesn’t include this group – they’re too dangerous.” Or “I can love them without letting them near me.” Or “once I have move money, then I’ll try to follow Jesus’ teaching about money.” Advent is the season in which we remember when God’s people waited in darkness for the coming of the King. But Advent is also the season in which we prepare ourselves to receive the King today. What would it look like for you to receive King Jesus with Joy rather than Fear, even when he doesn’t meet your expectations?

What is it this Advent season that is causing you to be unsettled or afraid rather than joyful?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King.

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