First Sunday of Christmas 27 December 2015
(Isaiah 63:7-9 Psalm 148 Colossians 3:12-17 Matthew 2:13-23)
“Where’s the Good News?”
So on this final weekend of the year 2015, I’m choosing to preach one of the more difficult sermons I’ve preached this entire year.
The first difficulty is that this Gospel from Matthew is not an easy story to read just two days after Christmas. The second difficulty is that I wish for you to hear this story as Good News. The third difficulty is that I would like this story to stir up within us how this Gospel text might inform us in our ideas related to the refugee resettlement crisis in today’s world.
So even before I take a look at the Gospel text from Matthew, let me be clear in saying that I do not intend to tell you exactly how you must think related to refugee resettlement issue; what I do want to do is suggest at least one way the Gospel Good News might influence you thinking on this issue.
But let me get to the Gospel text. If I had been in charge of putting these scripture texts together I simply would have closed out this scene of the magi as soon as they presented the Baby Jesus with gifts–period. I would have had them right there in absolute awe, making fools of themselves, gushing the way all adults gush over a new-born child! Then they would have gone with the scene ended.
But not Matthew. Matthew tells a story that is much more disturbing. It also is ultimately much more realistic.
The thing is: Jesus’ birth upset a lot of people! Jesus comes as God’s chosen king, the one who is to bring the peace and justice of the Kingdom of God. And so all earthly kings who put their power and privilege first then become terrified. Herod is a primary example. So terrified is he of the promise that God will, in this child, restore peace and justice that he is willing to slaughter the babies of an entire region. Hence Joseph, warned by an angel, flees this carnage and moves his family to Egypt.
Such a wholesale account of indiscriminate massacre and night flights to the safety of another country would seem far-fetched were it not for very similar atrocities and tragedies happening right now in today’s world.
Which is, of course, why he tells it. To let us know that Jesus, Emmanuel, God, did indeed draw near to us, took on the lot of our lives, and experienced and endured all that we do, including—fear, violence, even death.
So today, it is important for us to hear the story of the sudden departure of the magi and the reason why. It is important for us to hear the warning of the angel and the slaughter of the children. It is important to hear the story of a displaced family and the fear and insecurity that went with them.
And, although the Christmas story begins with the birth of a child, it does not end until this child is grown up, preached God’s mercy, been crucified and died and raised again. Actually, it does not end until Jesus draws us all into this story, raising us up to new life even amid the very real challenges that face us here and now.
Which must lead us, I believe, into a deeper effort with our own personal response when, according to the latest accounts by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, more than 4 million people from Syria have been forced from their homes, and that is just one country.
As Bishop Dunlop noted in a pastoral letter a few weeks ago, this is an extremely complicated crisis. And I think that’s why it becomes such a complex moral and spiritual issue with so many people.
While we are called to be neighbor to people in need, especially people who are victims and are in desperate circumstances; and as we witness heart-rending images of refuge families pouring out of Syria, fleeing for safety, escaping war and horrific violence, we also know that terrorists can disguise themselves among good, honest people trying to escape the violence that has devastated their homelands.
And so too often, we end up polarized, politicized and angry, not knowing how to disagree with each other in Christian love, unable to talk with each other, even as we are united by Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
Which takes me back to the Gospel text…….There are several themes that are clearly present in this reading from Matthew. The one I think speaks most clearly to us in this issue is how Matthew uses these prophesies to place Jesus into the long prophetic tradition that He is the Messiah, bringing justice and peace. Matthew, more than any of the other gospel writers, wants to be sure that we know that!
Matthew quotes three prophecies in this short text, making it absolutely clear that Israel has been waiting for these prophecies to be fulfilled, and now this long-awaited Messiah is here.
So Jesus has stepped into this prophetic path. Remember when Moses was a baby, he had to be hidden because the Pharaoh was looking to kill all male Jewish infants? Now Matthew again reminds us that with Jesus, King Herod’s men are coming to kill the infant children again.
The prophetic message is this: in the Old Testament and now in Matthew’s world when the common people were not being protected, and they could not trust the government to protect their people, it was the prophets who responded from within the prophetic promises of God’s care.
For Christians, in Baptism, we become part of that prophetic tradition, moving from slavery to freedom. As baptized Christians who are joined to that prophetic path, I want to suggest this is how this Gospel informs our response to those fleeing hostility and war in today’s world.
Absolutely we must be concerned about safety and security. Surely, we cannot be naïve! But we also cannot be blinded and controlled by fear! As scary as terrorism is, we live by and are empowered by the love of God for our neighbors. We are part of a prophetic path and cannot let our voices be silenced to speak justice for all God’s people, most especially over and against violence and tyranny.
The hopeful truth is that God has not stood back at a distance, but in Jesus has joined God’s own self to our own story and is working to grant new life for all people. This is God’s promise! This is our hope! Amen.