The Wise Men didn’t quite know what they were looking for.
They knew they were looking for a king, of course, because that’s what their traditions and a mysterious star told them; a new king of Israel. And so they allowed themselves to be lead by their assumptions as much as their star. I guess it’s easy to see it from their point of view: why wouldn’t they head to the political, religious and cultural centre of Israel? If you’re looking for the heir to the throne, you head for a palace. That’s how the world works.
Except this is Advent, and it’s a time to recognise the presence of God, and sometimes that means looking in unusual places. Yes, God is all around, and he’s present in the centres of power. But he seems more passionate about slums than palaces.
So when the Magi finally find the infant Jesus, he’s at an inn. If they’d've arrived earlier, he’d've been lying in a feeding trough. Because this is a new kind of kingship that’s building a new kind of Kingdom.
There’s a danger that we forget this. We think that if we can achieve political power we can establish God’s kingdom through legislation and hierarchy. And I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being politically engaged, but the end goal isn’t about making sure Christians are in charge. After all, Jesus is already king, we already know what he wants from us. We need to follow his lead. If we follow our assumptions instead, well things can go horribly wrong; look at the aftermath of the Magis’ visit.
And so look at where following the real king could take us; to awkward conversations on the fringes, to confrontations with corrupt authorities, to taking healing and hope and freedom to wherever it’s needed.
Sometimes Jesus is to be found in the following – we see him for who he is when we follow in his footsteps. It’s difficult to hold on to platitudes and judgemental generalisations when we’re sent to show love and compassion to real individuals with real lives and real heartache.
That’s why it’s so important to truly see what a kingdom ruled by Jesus looks like. There’s a moment in Revelation 5 when Jesus is introduced as “the lion of the Tribe of Judah”. It’s a powerful image, magnificent and messianic, primal power combined with centuries of respect for Israel’s warrior king. We’re primed to see a king who can rip apart his enemies.
And yet immediately after this we’re pointed to heaven’s throne and seated on it isn’t a ferocious lion but a sacrificial lamb. We’re focused on the throne and forced to reconsider what our king looks like.
Our images of power and authority can easily divorce us from a God who uses power in a very different way. We need to get over this and build a kingdom founded on godly, not human ideals, to acknowledge that our King is a Lamb, and to find him in the following.