Sunday, 7 January 2018

King in His Own Right

Here's not a new mode of government, but one we see a lot. Government by strong man. Or woman. But mostly a man.

The idea that you never say sorry, never admit weakness, never  be vulnerable. It's getting so popular isn't it? The Kim dynasty in North Korea. The current crop of Tory ministers. And the king of proving he's better than anyone else, Donald Trump. It's all about strength. Being the greatest. The smartest. The one with the biggest nuclear button.

And here's the story of a number of powerful men. The Magi - wise men, philosophers, astrologers, magicians, kings - whatever they were. A powerful priestly caste from the East. Come to see the King of the Jews.  And there's Herod the Great.  The Great, notice. We have had two "the Great" kings in English history. Cnut, Alfred. You could argue that, if you're looking for monarchs to call "the Great", then Elizabeth and Victoria wouldn't be bad choices. But then, you know, women.

Herod "the Great". The king of Judea, Galilee, and assorted other bits. So much land that, when he died, his kingdom was divided up into four. But Herod's not as great as his propaganda lets on.

In the first place, he's not really the one in charge. He's a client king - a puppet, we'd say. He's allowed to rule as tyrant, in his own back yard. But he can only do what he does, within bounds the Romans set.

And off in Rome - Herod's boss Augustus. He's the Caesar - the emperor. But Augustus himself - he can't just can't go around saying he's lord of all he surveys. Because he only gets his job as long as he can persuade the Senate that, in fact they've given him the job.

The puppet king, Herod, wants to kill the upstart he's just heard about from the Magi. He fears for his throne. Pathetic, really - this man in his 60s, backed by the most powerful empire the world had ever known, scared of a toddler. But that's how flimsy a claim to earthly power can be.

But there's one king that depends on nobody. One whose authority comes only from himself. One queen whose title doesn't come from the flexible desires of a nervous tyrant, but has been foretold since the beginning of creation. Yet that all-powerful king has given it all up to be the most vulnerable thing on earth - a baby. That queen is the teenage wife of a seriously confused craftsman.

And so the powers of this world are given the choice. One of them loves power. He has his own wise men read out God's scripture to him. But he doesn't see that Scripture as a promise. He sees it as a threat. And he's stirred to bad actions - like a bad politician reading the tabloids. And the three,  or two, or however many wise ones - they lay down their treasures. The Queen brought treasures from Sheba to Solomon. But there's one greater than Solomon here.  And they know it. So they bow and worship.

There's a pattern in the Bible, where God picks out the weak. That series of preferred younger brothers - Abel, not Cain. Jacob, not Ishmael. Isaac, not Esau. David, not all his handsome older brothers. Mary, not Mariamne, Herod's queen.

So Herod frets in his palace. and Augustus is way off in Rome. And God - God is a child in a house in Bethlehem. Because God is with the weak. God is with the vulnerable. God is with the poor. And the darkness will never understand that. But the wise will find God, and worship.

Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

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