Years ago I preached a Christmas Eve sermon titled, “Putting the X Back in Christmas.” The idea was to play with common Christian objection to abbreviating the holiday Xmas. Before the service, I built a large X out of 2x4s that stood on a stand off to the side of the stage. At a pivotal point in the sermon, I turned the X 45 degrees so, when combined with the stand, it formed a cross. The sermon concluded that this Child King came to die so we could be forgiven and spend eternity in heaven.
I would never preach that sermon today. While there are many reasons, Psalm 72 invites us to explore one of them.
The Psalm itself is a prayer of Solomon, but one that reverberates through time and points to the kind of King Solomon prays he might become. He opens:
Give your love of justice to the king, O God,
and righteousness to the king’s son.
Help him judge your people in the right way;
let the poor always be treated fairly.
My sermon from all those years ago thought it knew what to do with the opening of the Psalm. God’s love of justice and righteousness seemed clear, sitting at the intersection of God’s holy perfection and humanity’s sinfulness. God’s justice and righteousness demanded that something happen to allow sinful people to come into the divine presence. Thus the Child King was born to die.
But that sermon had no idea what to do with the next line of the Psalm, or most of what follows. At the time I had no idea how to handle the fair treatment of the poor, rescuing the children of the needy, or how any of this tied into the crushing of oppressors. That sermon failed to see a king who came to enable the prosperity of all, something that made people feel the same way the grass does after a Spring rain.
As it turns out, it was my dry as the desert soul that prompted me to seek a new way of reading the Bible in the second half of 2015. That journey led me to a new way of understanding the entire Biblical narrative, including Christmas.
When reading the Bible today, God’s justice and righteousness are not about the relationship between God and humanity, rather, it is about the Kingdom, that is the rule and reign, of God. In this case, it involves King Solomon ruling in a way that brings about the kind of society we would have if God was the one on the throne.
Here the poor are always treated fairly, the children of the needy are rescued, and the king crushes those who seek to oppress others. In doing so, the monarch crafts a society where all can prosper and people feel perpetually refreshed.
That goodness that creates human thriving is the divine understanding of justice and righteousness. This Christmas, that is the kind of society we should find ourselves praying for because that is the one the Child King will ultimately create.