This coming Sunday, January 6, brings us to Epiphany Day on the church calendar.
This day commemorates when wise men from the East followed a star to the house where the baby Jesus was living with His parents. (The word epiphany means to shine upon or to manifest and refers less to the star than to Jesus Himself, the light of the world, God revealed in human flesh.) The star was a sign to the wise men that a new king had been born, one foretold by Old Testament prophecy, with which they were familiar.
Before getting to Bethlehem, the wise men--logically--decided to stop in Jerusalem to ask the ruling king of God's people, Herod, where they could find the newborn king. But Herod had no idea about the birth. And, as they would come to understand, Herod didn't really welcome the news.
Matthew 2:3 says, "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him." Why were the leaders of Jewish religious and political life disturbed?
It's simple. They, especially Herod himself, didn't want any rival kings. They, like the Romans and millennia of despots who followed, were rocked because Jesus' lordship trumps the governments and pretenses of all earthly kings and rulers. Those who seek to rule as gods, without accountability to God or to others, are always threatened by Jesus. That's why Hitler coerced much of the Church in Germany. It's why Communist rulers tried to destroy the Church. It's why despots like Putin, Xi, and others hate the true Church that proclaims Jesus is Lord.
Truth be known, Jesus poses a threat to each of us because of our inborn human desire to be like God, rulers of our own fiefdoms.
But, as the Old Testament reminds us, wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord, the recognition that God is God and we're not and that life is only ours when we yield to the lordship over our lives of the One revealed to all the world in Jesus.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]