When we think of king we think of royalty, people who walk around with crowns on their heads and everybody bowing to them. Nowadays there aren’t a whole lot of kings wandering around but there are several queens and they only wear crowns once in a while. In the Advent story there are two kings: David, an ancestor of both Mary and Joseph although through different lines; and Herod, king of Israel and client of Rome. Jesus is never called a king in the nativity story, but he was offered homage as if he were born in a palace and with a crown on his head. Granted, the homage was from shepherds who were not exactly top-drawer status-wise, but then Jesus wasn’t the kind of king who required such things. He was a king for the common people, not just the nobility. There was also homage from the magi, astrologers and wise men from the East, who brought kingly gifts like gold, frankincense and myrrh, which, perhaps, was a foretelling of Jesus as a king of the whole world, not just for a people called Jews.
Kin were very important in Middle-Eastern culture and Jesus’ family was no exception. The family was all-important and the family usually included the extended family. Everybody knew their own genealogy, their place in the general order of things as well as to whom they were connected and how In a way, our social networks today like Facebook are our attempt to recreate such a structure in our own lives only using friends, close friends, co-workers and people we’ve never met but who we wish to be connected in some way. During the Advent and Christmas season, scattered families often come together, the more the merrier. Coming in from out of town for the event? Certainly Mom and Dad have room at their house, or maybe a brother or sister, even a distant cousin who lives in the same town has a spare bed. It makes me wonder, were there no cousins of the same house and lineage as Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem? Was there no one of even a distant line to whom they could turn? In that culture, to have relatives, no matter how distant, stay in a public accommodation rather than being welcomed as the kinfolk they were would have been a matter of great shame. I wonder how the story might have read had Cousin Matthias or someone known they were coming and welcomed them as kin.
Kindness is a trait of generosity, whether generosity of physical stuff like gifts or generosity of spirit. Everybody likes to be thought of as generous (except the ones who pride themselves on being first cousins several times removed from Ebenezer Scrooge). The bell ringers and their red kettles remind us to be generous to the poor, toy drives for underprivileged kids pop up at fire stations and even stores, and churches and malls cooperate (for once) with gift trees hung with tags each having the name, age, gender, and needs of a child who otherwise wouldn’t get a nice warm coat or new socks and maybe even a new toy too. Those things require generosity of spirit, but just as important are the intangible ones – a smile, a simple greeting, or an acknowledgement of another who might be someone who might be overlooked at another time of year or one who goes unthanked for the service they perform. Granted, some get paychecks for what they do and companies often consider that to be thanks enough. A generous spirit doesn’t necessarily mean handing out small tips to everybody who does us a service, but certainly a smile and a hearty “Thank you!” wouldn’t be amiss.
Nowadays if someone uses the word Kindle, they’re quite often talking about an e-reader with books stored on an electronic gizmo that weighs little but contains a lot. Kindle, though, has another meaning, one that is often lost on those who live in warm climates and whose sole lighting of a fire consists of using an electric match applied to a candle or a barbecue grill. To kindle is to light, to cause something to burn or glow. It requires a spark and something combustible, like small twigs, shavings or a wick placed in wax or grass or the like. For example, in several places in the BCP we entreat God to “. . . [K]indle, we pray, in every heart. . .” (BCP p. 258) or “. . .[K]indle our hearts, and awaken hope. . .” (BCP p. 124). During Advent we don’t really use the word “kindle” but we nonetheless ask God to do it, to light the fire of our devotion and dedication, to strike a spark in us to share our gifts, talents, time, treasure and intentions to spread the kingdom Jesus taught during his earthly life. Just as lighting a fire on a cold winter night brings light, warmth and hope, so we are encouraged to turn our hearts and minds to God through the incarnation that we celebrate during this season.
Whether kin or stranger, let kindness and a desire for a closer relationship with God through his incarnate gift to us, a King above all kings, guide us through this Advent season and into the joy of Christmas.