Back to Normal

Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Matthew 2:13-23

Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine

 

2:13Now 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 fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16When 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. 17Then was fulfilled 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.” 19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“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.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in 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. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” (Matthew 2:13-23, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: O Holy One, heavenly angels spoke to earthly shepherds and eternity entered time in the child of Bethlehem. Through the telling of the Christmas story, let our earthly lives be caught up in the eternal in that same child, that we might join shepherds and all the heavenly host in praising the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

 

It is hard getting back to reality after the Christmas celebrations.   I wanted to hold on to the excitement and the hope and the joy of yet another beautiful Christmas Eve services followed by the wonder of Christmas morning.   I wanted to stay in the comfort of that Christmas joy.  Of course, none of that can last.  We all realize that family time can get old when we stay too long.   The excitement and hope of children on Christmas morning cannot be sustained at the same intensity much past noon.  I cannot continue to eat like I let myself over Christmas.   Reality must come back.   Routines, normal, life as we know it.   I know that and I like my reality and life as routine but it seems hard to go back to normal.

 

We have been through a season of decorating the house, and baking, and eating cookies. We have put up lights and decorations, as a congregation we have worship God and celebrated the Advent and Christmas Season complete with glorious candlelight services on Christmas Eve.

 

Now it is time to take down the Christmas tree and carry it out to the curb, it is time for us to go back to work, it is time to take down lights and decorations, it is time for the kids to get back into a routine and get up for the school bus, etc. etc.   It is time to get back to normal!

 

Christmas 2016 has come and gone and we have to ask ourselves, “Has the celebration of the birth of Christ, the observance of Christmas, really changed anything?  Or was it just a brief pause before we collectively get back to normal?”[1]

 

The Gospel reading shocks us from the joyous feeling on the Christmas Season with a horrifying jolt of reality for the holy family.  It is abrupt, it is jarring, and even harrowing.   The wise men have just left when another angel visits the holy family and tells them to flee, to run for their lives from King Herod.  Mary and Joseph have gone from a happy couple planning a wedding in their village to outcasts whose baby was born in a spare room in a strange town.   And now, their life gets even worse; they have become “illegal aliens,” “political refugees,” “strangers in a strange land.”   They are on the run.    Trying to hide from the cruel King Herod, who has become even more paranoid by the birth of Christ.  Herod has become more and more suspicious and bloodthirsty, taking out his anger and his fear on the innocent, children of Bethlehem.

 

At first glance, it does not appear that the first Christmas has done anything but make matters worse for everyone involved.  Where’s the good news in that? Again, we must ask: Has the birth of the Christ child changed anything, or are we always stuck in a rut of numbing normal?

 

This Biblical story seems timeless as it sounds all too familiar to our current situation in the world in which we live.  Just think back of the last year, 2016.  So many shootings.  So much terror.  So much unrest.  Political division, racial tension and class warfare.   Remember the more violent events of this past year – Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, Nice, Brussels, St. Paul, Aleppo, Berlin, Chicago – just to name a few.   It’s hard to see where the birth of the baby Jesus has improved anything for anybody.

 

This sense that things have not improved is not just in the Bible, it’s our world. It’s on TV and the internet; it’s in the middle East, Africa, but it is also here in our own nation, our own state, even in our own backyard.   The slaughter of the innocents continues.   Is this the normal we come back to after the warmth and glow of Christmas?   Did the birth of the Christ change anything?  The violence and unrest we are experiencing are not new.

 

Which is, part of Matthew’s point.  Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and so the God we meet in Jesus in the manger is not exempt from the tension, fear, violence, and horror of our fallen world.  And God’s embrace of the most difficult parts of our story reminds us that this world is not just fallen but also beloved.[2]

 

This week I saw an artist’s rendition of this story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt.  What made this interpretation memorable is that the holy family was not traveling alone.   They were surrounded by other refugees, reminding us that in this story of forced flight, God-in-Christ identifies with all who have been driven from their homes by the threat of terror, all who are displaced by violence, and all who flee in fear with hopes for a better life.

 

When you think about it, Emmanuel – God-with-us – wouldn’t really mean all that much if it was only God with us during the good times and the celebrations. Yes, those moments of joy are gifts from God and it’s good and right to give thanks to God for them.  But if we’re glad that God is with us in times of rejoicing, we’re desperate to know that God is also with us in other times.  Times of grief, loss, and fear.[3]

 

And Matthew goes even further.   God is not only with us, God is also for us, promising to journey with us through difficult times.  Matthew remind us that nothing is beyond the bounds of God’s love.  God is with us, even in the darkest times. God is with us, in the journey. God is with us, in the new Year. God is with us, always.

 

And God is working – always and everywhere.  We all know that Jesus was born in a manger is not the end of the story.  There is so much more to come.  It is just the beginning.  Likewise, our world, our nation, our church, our lives right now, it is not the end.  God is still working, still transforming and creating new life and hope.

 

Let us pray –

[1] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, Lectionary Lab Live blog: Is it now ‘back to normal’? December 26, 2016

 

 

[2] Reverend Dr. David Lose, http://www.davidlose.net/2016/12/christmas-1-a-just-in-time/

[3] Ibid.

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