Saturday, 21 December 2013

After Christmas: We live!

A sermon on Matthew 2:13-18

So Christmas is over what happens next?

I think to understand what happens next for us it is helpful to continue to look at the story of Jesus’ birth as it is told to us by Matthew and see what happened next for Jesus, Joseph and Mary.

Now there are stories in the Bible that I think many of us would prefer not to be there and you can tell this is the case by the way we tell them.

A good example is the story of the wise men that came travelling from the East.  Most of us know that these men turned up with their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And many may even know that they came to see Jesus via King Herod.

This morning I want to share with you what happens next in the story of the wise men as we think about the idea that Christmas is over and what happens next for us, for you and for I. 

So to set the scene the wise men have already been and visited Jesus with their gifts and then in the gospel of Matthew he tells us this:

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.’ 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

16 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 old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
   wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
   she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more.’

Now I don’t know about you but I find this story a particularly difficult one.  The nice manger scene disappears.  The shepherds and angels, and the wise men and their gifts disappear into the horror of this account. Joseph and Mary become refugees fleeing in terror to another land where they will seek asylum.

And as they flee a most barbaric act is reported as Herod orders the slaying of innocent children in a mad expression of vengeance and power and protectionism.

Not surprisingly none of these gritty and uncomfortable scenes make it on to the front of our Christmas cards.

We think of Christmas as a happy time: as the celebration of Jesus birth; of God becoming one of us; of pretty nativities with angels and shepherds.  The contrast with this story could not be more pronounced.  It could leave us perplexed and dumbfounded.  What is going here?

Yet this story gives me great hope because what it does is remind me that: it is precisely because of the dislocation that occurs within peoples’ lives; it is precisely because of the insane abuses of power by those who wield it; it is precisely because innocents suffer and people are left heartbroken and mourning; it is precisely because we are so often left grasping at straws to find meaning; that God enters the world in Jesus.

Our sentimentalism about the manger scene must at some point give way to the seriousness of our human predicament and Matthew makes clear as he recounts the story of the slaughter of innocents just how serious things are.

Whilst Jesus is never recorded as saying anything directly about the slaughter of these children I can only imagine the deep sorrow he felt when he grew old enough to hear about this story and understand it. 

It makes me think of the times that we are told that Jesus looked upon the crowd and had compassion – from the depths of his being, from deep within his gut, emotions well-up as Jesus saw the pain and suffering that people endure.  It is not too fanciful to think that on some of those occasions there were numbered in the crowd people who had a child killed by Herod.  

God does not remain separate from the world in which these things happen but comes into in Jesus and shares in it and feels for us.

After Christmas life goes on.  Some of us may have a great life; some on the other hand find ourselves constantly wondering what it all means.  We stand on the cusp of a new year and maybe we are secretly longing for this year to be better than last.

It might be a personal cry from within our own hearts or it might be a cry that echoes our concerns for others whom we know nearby or who remain anonymous and are far away.

Maybe you are facing personal difficulties:  you are looking for a job; you are not well; you are mourning; you are down or you are depressed.

Or maybe you look upon this world disheartened and disillusioned: a world where over 6 million people in Syria need aid every day; a world in which our government incarcerates asylum seekers coming from other countries; a world in which bushfires, typhoons, droughts and floods are deeply impacting people’s lives now.

The grittiness and horror of the story of Joseph and Mary’s flight into Egypt with their newborn Son alongside the reprehensible killing of the children reminds us that God did not remain apart from the reality of the suffering in our created existence.

Such is God’s identification with us is that Jesus himself endures unimaginable suffering and a torturous death taking all of this suffering in our lives into himself as well.  God literally shares our pain.

But the good news is that Jesus suffering and death are not the last word because God raises Jesus from the dead and pours out the Holy Spirit on the creation.  In this we who live in the ambiguity of this life are given hope that the suffering and wailing and fleeing and horror that we and others experience are not ignored by God but shared by Jesus who continues to look upon us with compassion.

What do we do now that Christmas is over?  We go on living. We go on hoping in the God who lived as one of us.  We go on yearning to experience God more closely in the midst of all the joy and the suffering we might experience.  We go on celebrating God cared enough to be one of us.  We go on living.

Whatever the days and year ahead may hold for you may you to take heart in the serious business of God’s love which reaches beyond the barrier of the divine divide and promises us peace.

This is what we do now that Christmas is over, we accept the gift that God has given us: we live!

May God bless you all in the year ahead!

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