First Presbyterian Church of Sussex
Text: Matthew 2:13-23 (NRSV)
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
She refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
It’s interesting that we can move so quickly from singing “Silent Night” by the candle light to the innocent shedding of blood that we find in our gospel reading this morning. It makes it difficult to celebrate and give thanks and praise like the prophet of Isaiah who said, “I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us…” Give thanks? Give praise? How is that possible? With the start of a new year we realize that our problems from the year before didn’t go away overnight, the world we live in is still filled with the same old problems and maybe even some new ones. But then again, Jesus didn’t come into a perfect world, and instead came down to be God incarnate, God made flesh, with us in the messiness and chaotic thing we call life.
One night while being an on-call chaplain I was about to finally go to sleep. I had taken a shower, put on my sleeping clothes, and my head was about to hit the pillow when the unmistakable sound of a pager began to beep frantically. I frantically rushed to change and quickly made my way down to the room of a family who had just lost a loved one. The loved one who had passed away was visiting their children in the U.S. from a country halfway around the world when an unexpected surprise brought them to the hospital. We gathered around the bed. Tears were shed. Family members hugged each other. And before I offered up a prayer they called another family from their home country so that they could be present and pray with us.
We might not find ourselves in a situation where we are halfway around the world and find that we lost someone who was near and dear to us. But I have to assume that there have been moments and that there will be moments to come when it feels as though we are far away from what is familiar and like the infant Jesus, forced to seek refuge that protects us against the storms and threats that come our way. There are countless things that we will encounter in life that make it feel as though we need to seek out shelter. Maybe it was the death of a someone we knew, or maybe there is trouble at work, or maybe a relationship that was important fell apart.
Don’t worry… I promise you that there is good news to come, but first I have to say one more thing, and that is that Christmas is not the serene, romantic, or sentimental holiday that is so often portrayed in the notorious Hallmark movies. No, Christmas isn’t like anything we could possibly imagine, because while we may think that the baby Jesus was asleep peacefully in a manger, there were forces at work that were attempting to put an end to this Christmas miracle. As we lit candles to celebrate the birth of Christ, King Herod ignited the engine of his machine of destruction to seek out and hunt Jesus using any means necessary.
I think that one of the miraculous works of God was that Christ, God incarnate, entered into our world and was not exempt from the pains and sufferings of this world. During the Christmas season we often throw around words like “incarnation” or “incarnate,” and in fact you might have heard me use this word before, but what do we mean when we say that Christ became God incarnate? In his commentary on “The Epistle to the Romans,” the late theologians Karl Barth wrote:
In this name (the name of Jesus) two worlds meet and go apart, two planes intersect, the one known and the other unknown. The known plane is God’s creation, fallen out of its union with [God], and therefore the world of the flesh needing redemption, the world of human beings, and of time, and of things – our world. This known plane is intersected by another plane that is unknown – the world of the Father, of the Primal Creation, and of the Redemption… The point on the line of intersection at which the relation becomes observable and observed is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. (pg. 29)
The intersection of two worlds… our world and the world of God. It sounds more poetic than the dictionary definition of, “someone who embodies the flesh.” When Christ entered into our world, our pains, our suffering, our hopes, and our expectations became a part of the divine Christmas story that we celebrate each and every year. Because in our world, our world that knows the difficulties of life, is embraced by Jesus Christ who comes to bring us the good news of salvation and redemption that can be found in God’s love and grace.
At the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the love and grace of God became flesh. But this love and grace would soon be met by a something that is all too familiar. The story of Herod’s anger is a story that is told time after time. It is a story where the innocent are left at the mercy of evil that oppresses them and binds them with fear and intimidation. It is a story that we see and hear all too often… from the tragic attack in the German Christmas market to the innocent shedding of blood in places like Aleppo, and the unknown number of boys and girls who are taken to be used as child soldiers. It is a story that we know all too well, but it isn’t the only story.
Because there is another story that we know, a story that we heard on Christmas Eve, on Christmas, and every Sunday that we come to church! A story that tells us of an infant who fled from danger down to the land of Egypt. A story that tells us of that same infant who would grow up to teach that we are loved, forgiven, and treasured by God so that we can go out and help those who are in need of help and are not able to run from danger and oppression. A story that would remind us that at the table we are given the gift of bread and cup, which Christ gave as a gift for the world. The problems that we have don’t magically disappear. But Christ knows these stories, our problems, our hurts, and our pains, and tells us to support, to love, to be active in helping one another both near and far.
This is because Christ knew what it is like to have to flee and to be threatened by the forces of evil in this world… The forces that oppress people and put them into bondage. The forces that place wants and needs above the wellbeing of other people. The forces that tempt us to believe that earthly powers will fix our problem, while neglecting to remind us that Christ sits as the king over all creation.
So are we able to give thanks and praise in the midst of chaos and the messiness of life? I guess that honestly still depends on where we are and how we are feelings. However, I think we that we can take hope, take courage, in the fact that as we continue in our celebration of Christmas we do so acknowledging our Lord who experienced the difficulties of this world. We can look forward and start the year with the Christmas story of Jesus Christ, who entered into our world of pain only to free us and gave each and every one of us the responsibility of freeing those who are still in held in captivity by the evil that exists in our world today. So let us spread this Christmas story, this hope, this love, this liberation, with all that meet.
Would you please pray with me, “Almighty God, you wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature. In your mercy, let us share the divine life of Jesus Christ who came to share our humanity, and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer)