Dr Sangster told this story, "I remember being invited to a party held to celebrate a wedding. I arrived late and I knew nobody there but the friend who had invited me, and my part in the proceedings was little more than that of a spectator. Everybody seemed to be in high spirits. They danced and shouted and sang and laughed and played games, and indulged in heaps of harmless fun. They flung streamers across the hall, they chased after balloons, they pranced about in paper caps, they visited the side-board for drinks, and young and old alike were reduced to a state of childish glee.
"Presently, I noticed a young lady sitting in a corner alone. She seemed very happy, and smiled pleasantly when I caught her eye, but I thought she seemed a bit neglected, and I whispered to my friend: 'Who's the young lady in the corner?'
"'Don't you know?' he said, somewhat startled. 'I must introduce you. That's the bride...'"
Sounds rather improbable, doesn't it? Sangster's Christmas Day congregation thought so too. But he insisted that it was true and unexaggerated in a single detail.
And here we are preparing to celebrate the coming of the King. Do we have space for him in our celebration? or do we just like celebrating? Is our Christmas a birthday party without the guest of honour?
The Jewish people had been waiting for their King to come. In those days kings and priests were anointed with oil to show that they were set apart for the special work God had for them to do. Their word for "anointed" was mashiach - rendered "messiah" in English. They were waiting, not for one more King, but for the Messiah, for God had promised someone special who would come in God's good time to redeem his people.
In Isaiah 11 he is described as "a shoot from the stump of Jesse." The Good News Bible says, "The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David's descendants."
What will it be like when the shoot from the root of Jesse is King? For a start, the Spirit of the Lord will be on him - "the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord - and he will delight in the fear of the Lord." So the first difference will be the kind of king who is coming. He will be so different from any other king they have ever had before. His rule will be marked by complete fairness - he will not be playing to his courtiers - not appearance, status, hearsay, but justice and integrity towards everyone, even to the poorest and neediest in his kingdom.
So peace will be the mark of his kingdom. The whole creation, thrown into a state of hostility by the Fall, will be transformed, brought back to what it was meant to be. Peace between wolf and sheep, between leopard and goat, between calf and lion, between cows and bears. "A little child will lead them... The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain" (vv. 6d,8,9a).
Of course, we don't yet live in that ideal world. But listen to what Paul says in Romans 8 - "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (vv. 19-22).
Paul is saying that the whole physical world has been affected by the results of the human rejection of God, by human sin. We don't (and can't!) live in a Garden of Eden any more. We hear the Lord saying to Adam, "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen. 3.17ff).
We too wait for that final restoration in which there will be perfect peace, justice and harmony. These are the marks of the kingdom!
And as the marks of his kingdom, they are also what the King will look for when he comes!
It came as a shock when a preacher appeared in the desert of Judaea dressed in clothes of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist. He began calling people to repent of their sins so that they could prepare for the coming of the Lord. "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near," he told them (Mt. 3.2). And people confessed their sins and were baptised in the Jordan River.
For years now the Planning Committee had been at work - soon the dream would be a reality!
Just now, the highest quality deep-pile carpet was being laid by a team of experts. The paint on the walls was a special new finish - and spotless. A superb sound system piped the finest music to every room. Everything was designed for comfort, winter and summer. Wide windows afforded splendid views of the garden - already a picture, thanks to the skills of the landscape gardeners...
You see, the King was coming. It seemed he would be coming soon. They had to be ready! They had to have the place fit for the King!
Just as everything was ready and the happy day about to dawn, a young boy and an old man (a boy and his grandpa, perhaps) wandered through the grand gateway.
They weren't dressed in anything special - very ordinary, in fact! But nobody seemed to notice at first, because there were still one or two in overalls putting in some finishing touches.
They walked across the lawn, looked at the shrubs and flowers, then moved towards the steps.
It was when they started up the steps that a shocked gasp went up from a couple of officials checking out the final details and a shout - "No! Stop! You can't go in there! Get out of here! You don't belong here! This place is for the King and it has to be kept fit for the King!"
The two were bundled out the gate and directed down the road - "and don't you ever come near here again!"
Soon the top dignitaries began to assemble, the trumpeters and the band arrived.
And the city folk, decked out in their best, crowded outside and lined the road to watch the expected arrival.
But the day wore on and nothing happened. Weeks passed, years, decades...
From time to time folk would gather near the House and listen to the well-rehearsed speeches, to the excellent trumpet fanfares and the fine music, to admire the architecture and enjoy the gardens...
Then, one night, it happened. The residents were woken by the strident wail of a siren. Putting on dressing gowns and slippers and looking a very motley crowd from least to greatest, they made their way to where the noise seemed to be coming from the city square. What was it all about?
There resplendent before them was the King himself!
A shocked gasp went up. One of the leading officials spluttered, "Why didn't you come? We were waiting. We were rehearsing for your arrival! "
And when the King of the whole universe comes, will he say, "I was a stranger and you did not invite me in... I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me" (Matt. 25.43-45)?
In our rush to be ready for Christmas, are we really ready for the King?
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