Which Highway to Church?
I was asked to talk a little on the theme of peace and Christmas. I am cheating a little, by looking at part of the Christmas story that I do not think is covered in this year's liturgy, a part of the Christmas story that I think relates directly to peace.
The story is in the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew's account of the visit of the wise men, the wise men drop by to see Herod the great. They tell him that they have been following the star of the one born to be King of the Jews. They ask Herod if he knows where this new King of the Jews is, because they want to worship him. Herod asks the wise men to let him know where the child King is, when they locate the new King, so Herod can also "worship him."
That was some worship Herod had in mind for Jesus. He wanted to kill Jesus. Be very careful when people want to worship you! Their admiration could be the kiss of death.
The star guides the wise men to where Jesus is. That is where I will pick up the story from the Bible.
Matthew 2:11-12 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Herod the great was successful in wars.1 But Herod would not have won the Monarch of the Year Award. He would not have been given the consolation prize – the Congeniality Monarch Award either. He was probably far more feared than loved, more loathed than or respected, more hated than revered.
Herod was a heavy-handed ruler, not a nice person. He was “as much distinguished for his cruelty and his crimes as he was for his greatness.”2 Warren Wiersbe describes Herod as “cruel and crafty.”3 Robertson's Word Pictures says Herod the great was “great in sin and in cruelty.”4 The People's New Testament Commentary tells us Herod murdered some of his sons and describes him as a “bloody tyrant” and a “bloody and unscrupulous character.”5 He had his wife and two of her brothers killed, because he suspected them of treason.6 Herod was married ten times.7 At least nine of the marriages were to secure political connections.8
There is a real contrast between the two kings in the Christmas story. There is Herod, who is afraid, and insecure. Herod kills his wife and sons, kills his in-laws and kills all of the children in Bethlehem who were two years of age or younger.9 Then there is Jesus, the one who, according to the Biblical account, gives up His life so that humanity can have life. Herod kills to redeem himself. Jesus dies to redeem the world. The contrast could not be more striking.
There are two very different concepts of God in Christian circles. There is the Herod god, the god of fear, racism, anti-Semitism, hatred, vengeance, anger, judgment, punishment, retribution, homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia. Then there is the concept of a loving God. The loving God picture is framed around glimpses of the King in the manger – basically a glorified sounding barnyard – and the King on the cross at Calvary. This is a God of forgiveness, love, and self-sacrifice. The choice of the god you worship is yours and that choice will make all of the difference in your life.
We can choose to worship, the Herod god, or the loving God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We can choose to believe that God is a mean, vengeful God. We can believe in a god who hates gay, bisexual, trans-identified, queer and questioning people and wants to kill all queer people. Or we can believe in the loving God, a God who has gay, bisexual, trans-identified, intersex, queer and questioning children and loves each of the those queer children intensely.
The reality is that the real God is a loving God. John Stott served as an Anglican pastor, evangelist, preacher, and theologian. Some people feel Stott is one of the leading British evangelicals. Unfortunately, he is not gay affirming, but he understands the importance of the gospel. John Stott, in the book The Cross of Christ, states, “No theology is genuinely Christian which does not arise from and focus on the cross.”10 I will add that no view of God that does not focus on the cross, on the grace of God, is genuinely Christian. Believing God rejects queer people is not genuine Christian theology.
The easiest way to remember this is to reflect on what might be one of the most famous texts in the Bible. John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Whosoever is an inclusive word, a word that includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-identified, queer and questioning people.
The wise men entered the promised land via the route of Herod. After they worship Jesus, they departed into their own country another way.
You might be used to arriving at church on Herod's highway, because you've bought into the Herod god. After meeting Jesus, you can depart from church another way. You can leave church with a changed concept of God. You can leave feeling the Ruler of the Universe loves you more than life. And that will change how you think, feel and act. You can choose to leave church today and go home on King's highway. When you drive on the King's highway, you will know the peace of Christmas.
1Albert Barnes. Barnes' Notes on the New Testament: Matthew and Mark. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1847), 9.
3Warren Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol. 1 (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989), 14.
4Robertson's Word Pictures. e-Sword. (Franklin, Tennessee: Equipping Ministries e-book, 2000).
5People's New Testament Commentary. e-Sword. (Franklin, Tennessee: Equipping Ministries e-book, 2000).
7Adam Clarke. Clarke's Commentary. e-Sword. (Franklin, Tennessee: Equipping Ministries e-book, 2000).
10John Stott. The Cross of Christ. (Doners Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 216.