A baby born in an unlikely place. Peace and good will to all. Who doesn’t love a story like that?
But the deeper story of Christmas might be surprising to those who think of the season only in terms of heart-warming movies and “Christmas magic.” A closer look reveals a God of justice who sets all things right.
Ethan Jones, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, pointed to the similarities between Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55) and Hannah’s Song (1 Samuel 2) to say that God has set the world “in reverse.”
“[Mary’s song] really sets the agenda for the gospel of Luke as a whole,” Jones said. “It’s this reversal theme of the enemies have been overturned, the poor are lifted up, the needy are lifted up, the powerful are put down.”
In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah praises God for the reversal of her affliction of being childless even as she keeps her promise to give her son Samuel back to God by leaving him with Eli the priest to raise. As Hannah praises God saying, “The bows of the warriors are broken” (verse 4), Mary sings, “He has toppled the mighty” (verse 52).
“Mary almost quotes Hannah,” Jones said, adding that the promise of a king is a promise of justice. Jones pointed to the promises in Isaiah 11 that the Prince of Peace will reign in perfect peace and justice.
“Somehow this stump of David, this Davidic King, this baby is going to reverse it all,” Jones said. “It’s just amazing.”
TO BE KING
For Americans who have no king, understanding a king’s role may be difficult.
“The king gives the instructions. We are meant to obey,” is how Jones explains the role of a “king” to his young children.
Believers are accustomed to speaking of Jesus as Teacher or Savior, but the Old Testament emphasizes God as King, Jones said. Psalm 93-100, in particular, refer to God as “a great King” and use the language of throne, royal courts, robed in majesty, or reigning to describe God’s rule. To be king means there will be a day of reckoning, Jones explained.
“In Revelation, He’s coming with a sword,” Jones said. “That is not out of context. That is not out of nowhere. Revelation, almost more than any New Testament book is quoting Old Testament passage after passage.”
Believers can rest knowing justice is in God’s hands, Jones explained.
“For the Lord to do these things, in His timing, and in what is only His perfect justice means that we, I, don’t have to,” Jones said.
THE BIG QUESTION
How believers can claim God is King in a dark and unjust world is an age-old question.
Jones explained that the psalmists who penned Psalms 93-100 were in exile, or post-exile, with the temple destroyed and a foreign ruler in power. The declaration that “God is King” by those in hard circumstances holds meaning, Jones said.
“They’re in exile, in Babylon,” Jones said. “For the psalmists to say ‘God is King’ is to say ‘the Babylonians aren’t.’”
When the psalmists declared “God is King,” it was a “return to the basics,” Jones said.
“[Their declaration said] we don’t fully understand how You’ve promised the Davidic King on the throne, we don’t see that right now, we don’t fully understand, but in that half-understanding we do know that You are King,” Jones said.
Today, believers in difficult situations can “return to the basics” also by remembering the promise that when Christ returns all wrongs will be made right, Jones explained, adding, “We don’t see it, but we know it.”
As friends and loved ones gather this Christmas, believers can turn conversations with those yearning for peace and good will to the good news of the gospel, Jones noted.“The real robust idea of peace is only brought about by God, in the way in which God has chosen to do that through His son,” Jones said. “This is the One who will bring peace because he is God’s Son. He is holy. He’s the only One who can bear the sins of the world.”