“So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
There was a big deal in calling Jesus the Son of God. To place that label in one’s mouth and to apply it to Jesus carried political consequences. It could also carry the penalty of death. The emperor was called the “son of God.”
Gabriel gave this baby a title that was too big for his little, growing frame. He was hardly a speck and he was already given the massive title that competed with the most powerful person on the planet. And this was to be his life. He was to be a humble competitor to all the most powerful others who would appear to be better options.
Herod was more impressive. He was the current king, the only real monarch who could be seen. He was a narcissist by most reports in biblical studies. His primary concern (and I hear you, Tillich) was not others but himself. He impressed himself by extending his reign, rule, and power. He was violent and driven and dark. And he was who people thought of when they heard the words, “Son of God.”
On the other hand, by any measure, Jesus was broke, without real obvious resource, submitted to the generosity of women–remember that women’s support of Jesus was the opposite of the common custom in our day. In some ways, the humble beginnings were a frame that captured Jesus and made him so unattractive as “an option.”
He wasn’t exciting. He said very good things. Depending on your view of him, you’d place him, as a teacher, next to other wise sages. He was prophetic, said things that were troublesome, but he wasn’t unlike others in that respect. The Christian Tradition says that these were early modifiers of Jesus and that they collected into a large pool of other important things to say about him. He was the Son of God. Not just a teacher. Not just a prophet. He was the (new) ruling king.
Linking Jesus to David, Gabriel characterizes the rule of this Son as eternal. He wouldn’t be subject to time, to temporality, to the votes of people in a democracy or to the sheer might that comes from power and violence. His reign would be unique.
He would be a stark alternative to the sitting king. He would grant us a different vision of the world. He would turn us entirely to something else. I wonder if we can accept what he brings. I wonder if we can say “yes” to him when all the other Herods seem so much more attractive, interesting, and understandable.
Can humility and strength be a part of our lives as citizens of this Son and Ruler? Can power through weakness and redemption of suffering characterize our citizenry as they did his life? Can eternal might come in a different way from what we expect? God, grant it.