The repentance Christmas calls for
I’m a decade or so too young to have witnessed the coronation of my own monarch, but that’s about to change. In May 2023, a new person will be crowned as my king: Charles III.
I may or may not watch the ceremony. If it happens to be on at a convenient time, I might tune in for a bit; if it’s in the middle of the night, I most likely won’t. And that kind of sums up how significant an event it is in my life. To be honest, I don’t think Charles being officially inducted as my king is going to make the slightest difference to me.
In fact, if Charles happens to call me one day to say “I am your King! You must do X to serve me!”, I confess I would take a small amount of pleasure in informing his Majesty that—while I might do what he asks (on the basis of Matt 5:41)—he has no legitimate authority to demand my obedience.
But I don’t feel that way about every king.
A different king arrived around two thousand years ago. He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, and you had to pay close attention to the signs in order to know this baby was a king. Shepherds and wise men came looking for him in order to pay their respects. King Herod felt threatened by the news of this new royal rival and tried to get rid of him. And John (the Baptist) took on the unenviable job of preparing people for this new king’s reign.
Of course, Christmas is all about that new king, and all these many years later we still pay our respects to him. Let’s be real though: the way we tend to celebrate Christmas makes baby Jesus seem about as remote and as devoid of authority as Charles III.
But we should not be lulled into complacency. This is the king foretold in the Old Testament in Psalm 2—the king whom God himself sets on Zion (v. 6); the king who breaks the nations with his rod of iron and dashes them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (v. 9); the king whom other kings should serve with fear and trembling (v. 11); the king they should kiss, lest he be angry with them (v. 12). This is the king who will execute judgement among the nations (Ps 110:6).
This baby, in other words, is the king who will set all things right and establish God’s eternal and righteous kingdom.
That’s why John prepares people by calling for a response that he describes with a single word: “repent” (Matt 3:1-2, cf. Mark 1:14-15). Repent because you now know that the kingdom of this king is about to be established; repent because you know this is a powerful king to be feared; repent because this is not a king you want to be on the wrong side of. This is the only appropriate response to the all-powerful king: accept him as your king, stop rebelling against him and submit to his authority.
It’s not just the right response for back then. It’s still the required response now that the king is seated on his heavenly throne, having come to that throne via his death, resurrection and ascension and so provided for our forgiveness. It’s the fundamental response to the gospel.
I’m not sure that this repentance response is a big and genuine part of our Christmas, is it?
But it’s the right response towards the King of kings. It’s our ongoing response as Christians. It’s the response we hope for—and ought to pray for—around our world as this gospel is preached to the nations.
Baby Jesus? “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Ps 2:12).