“And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)
The stories of the Annunciation and the virgin birth are meant to teach us not primarily about Mary, but about the child she would bear. In our passage today, Gabriel said a great deal about Jesus. You might read it again and underline each word or statement concerning the child Mary would bear. Gabriel was telling Mary that she will give birth to the long-awaited messianic king.
A thousand years before Gabriel’s conversation with Mary, God sent a messenger to King David. This messenger’s name was Nathan, and he was one of God’s prophets. Nathan, speaking on behalf of God, said to King David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). For four hundred years a descendant of David ruled in Jerusalem.
But in 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. The Davidic king, Zadekiah, was arrested by the Babylonians. His sons were executed while he watched, and then his eyes were gouged out and he was led away in chains as a prisoner to Babylon. The leading citizens were exiled to Babylon, others fled to Egypt, and the rest were scattered. For fifty years the Israelites remained in exile. During this time the prophets of the Exile reminded the people of the promise made to David, that his throne wound “be established forever.” Surely this meant that, despite their current circumstances, there was still hope that God would restore his people.
Thus the people began to hope and pray for God to send an anointed king who once more would rule over God’s people. They began to dream about what he would be like and what his kingdom would be like. This was the beginning of the messianic hope. And it was these hopes, dreams, and promised that Gabriel announced would be fulfilled in Jesus, whose name itself means, “Deliver” or “Savior.”
Jesus was born to be a king. He was born to rule over a kingdom. When he began his public ministry, he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15 KJV). His entire ministry was focused on teaching about God’s kingdom and inviting his hearers to be a part of it. That kingdom is not some future heavenly realm; it is a reality today. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21 KJV). Whenever we choose to follow Jesus and to live as his people, we become citizens of his kingdom.
Jesus said those who are citizens in his kingdom, who follow him as king, will love their neighbors and even their enemies. He said they will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned, and welcome the stranger. How would Jesus have us celebrate his birth? I think he would say, “By doing my will and living the precepts I taught you.”
I was struck recently by the actions of a child who understood this. His name is Jake. For his fifth birthday his parents threw him a birthday party. He invited all his friends. But he told his friends the only presents he wanted were jars of peanut butter. Jake had heard there were children in Kansas City who received breakfast and lunch at school every day, but on the weekends there was little food in their homes. They were coming to school hungry on Monday mornings. Our church started a program to send backpacks home with these children every Friday filled with snacks to tide them over for the weekend. Included among those snacks were jars of peanut butter. Jake decided that for his birthday he wanted other children not to be hungry over the weekend.
Jake is learning what it means to call Jesus his king. How might you follow his example this Christmas?
Lord, in this season of Advent, as I read the stories surrounding your birth, I once more acknowledge you as my king. How grateful I am that you reign forever. Help me today, and each day, to live as a citizen of your kingdom. Amen.