Sunday After Christmas Sermon

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December 29, 2019

First Sunday after Christmas Indian Hill Church Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 63:7-9

Psalm 148

Matthew 2:13-23

2:13 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.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 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.” 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. 17 Then 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.” 19 When 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.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But 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. 23 There 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.”

Let us pray: Light of life, you came in flesh, born into human pain and joy, and gave us power to be your children. Grant us faith,0                   Christ, to see your presence among us, so that all of creation may sing new songs of gladness and walk in the way of peace. Amen.

Can’t  we  linger  a  little longer  with  the Christmas cheer?    Can’t we keep the happiness and joy just a little bit longer?

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How quickly we have moved from the sweet baby in a manger to the horror of this text, this depressing text about King Herod murdering all the little babies?

I read a commentary on this on this hard Matthew passage that really struck me. It is not all bad to have this text the Sunday after Christmas. He says:

“But perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps we need to be reminded that joy and suffering exist right beside each other. Perhaps we need to be reminded that even as we celebrate, that others grieve, and our celebration is empty unless we also work to create a reason for the least and most vulnerable among us to celebrate. Perhaps it’s good for us to go directly from “Peace on earth and good will to all” to the reality of violence, death and suffering, so we have a better understanding of the Christmas message in the light ofthe pain in our

world.”1

Madison Avenue and Hollywood portray Christmas as a time of peace and love and happiness. All the Christmas cards and commercials show pictures of happy families sitting around a fire watching snow falling outside. We have dreams of families reuniting and enemies forgiving enemies and children having all their wishes come true. There is nothing wrong with these dreams and yes, sometimes they do come true. But there is much more to the Christmas story than hallmark cards portray.

If you think about it, that first Christmas was not an easy, or a frivolous time.

1 Sacridese on Text this week, Dec. 26, 2010

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It was messy and hard and painful. Mary gave birth in a barn with no doctors or nurses and certainly no clean freshly laundered blankets to wrap her bundle o fjoy in. We might prefer to stick with the Gospel of Luke’s version of the Christmas story where the shepherds depart “praising God for all they had seen and heard” and then the very next event recorded by Luke is Joseph talcing Jesus to be circumcised

and being blessed by Simeon. It is a much sweeter story. But while we might prefer

that story, we can’t deny Matthew’s story. For in Matthew there is no visit in the temple, there is only exile and threat and fear.

King Herod was no dummy. He ruled for nearly a generation. He was ruthless. He murdered one of his wives and three of his own sons. So, when he sensed a threat from this new baby boy born in Bethlehem, he knew what he must do to end any threat to his power. Just to make sure he got rid of the correct baby he would kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem. IN fact, any baby boy under the age of two would have to die just to be on the safe side.

But an angel, thank goodness for angels, an angel had warned Joseph to flee and to take Mary and the baby and get away. Joseph was a quick learner and he knew to trust the angel when the angel speaks. He had already had one visit from an angel, so his ears are primed to listen and obey. Joseph, being faithful and strong didn’t waste any time. He went to Egypt and stayed there for many years until Herod

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has died. It had to be Egypt, because Egypt had so much meaning to Joseph and his people. No doubt Joseph remembered that God had saved his people, the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God had brought hope out ofa hopeless situation. That must have given Joseph hope. It must have sustained Joseph for the journey and the years in Egypt.

And Joseph was right. God did save them. God did bring Joseph and his family back home. They did not stay in exile forever. They went back to Nazareth just as God told them to do.

So why this story at Christmas time? Because it is real life. Sometimes, lots of times, we can’t stay in the joy of holiday spirit. Sometimes peace and goodwill just don’t last.  Sometimes we find ourselves in far off places and lands like Egypt, in exile wondering what went wrong, why me? We make grand plans, but life just does not turn out that way. We lose the job, the stock market crashes, the housing market dries up, the marriage unravels, the child makes choices we would not like them to make, the cancer returns, death comes calling. Sometimes, it seems that the peace and goodwill of Christmas are overshadowed by the violence and wars of the world. People use violence again and again to squash any sort of threats. Just like Herod did. These are the facts of life, even in this joyous Christmas season.

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So, we read a text like this, where even Jesus found himself in exile, away from the comforts of home, running for his life. But he had a father and a mother who trusted and believed and put one foot in front of the other and survived.

Matthew’s stocy reminds us that even in this Christmas season we are surrounded by evil and violence and death. The church will not let us hide behind our Christmas cheer. As Christians we do not live in a fantasy world where children have all their dreams come true and there is no suffering and death. We live in a broken world. Even when Jesus was born, the light ofthe world, he was surrounded by violence and death. Ultimately it is the reason for Jesus, to save us from all this. This loving and forgiving God will carry us out of exile back home. This light of the world will save us from the Herods who cannot destroy God’s gift of eternal life.

We might not like this Christmas stocy from Matthew. We might like the angels rejoicing and the shepherds praising and the wise men bearing gifts a lot better, but we might just need this stocy from Matthew even more. For if God was unwilling to come to us in Egypt, in our own exiles, then we would not much want him or need him. If God is really going to save us then we need a God who will come to us wherever we are, whether that be in a stable in Bethlehem or in exile in Egypt. The stocy of Matthew assures us that God does come to us, even in our pain,

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perhaps most in our pain and fear. God comes to us and saves us and takes us back home.

Will Willimon, the former dean of Duke Chapel tells the story of one Christmas season having a conversation with one of his students. The boy told him how his girlfriend who he loved dearly had broken up with him right before Christmas and he was devastated. He thought she was the one. The boy said, “If it’s love why does it have to hurt so much? Love ought not to be that way.”

Dean Willimon listened but, in his heart, he was thinking, “Love, real love, is always that way. If there is to be love, there must be risk and if there is risk there is the possibility of pain. If love, God’s love is to come down to us, there is going to be some pain.”2 The good news is that God does come to us, no matter where we are and saves us. It is not always pretty and happy and easy, but in the end, it is real, and it is hopeful.

We need this story. We even need Herod in the story to remind us that Jesus did not enter the world in a pretty Christmas card picture. Jesus entered a world of real pain, of serious problems and brokenness. Jesus came into the world to save the lost, the downtrodden, the hurting.

2 Reverend Will Willimon, 12-27-98

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Of course, Matthew’s take on Christmas is the perfect prelude to the ending, the end of Jesus’ life. For in the end, Jesus takes on the powers and principalities, the kings and kingdoms and there is pain and violence and death. All in the name of love. All for us. The story that began in a barn ends on a cross. It is not a story of weakness, No. It is a story of strength and love and goodness, that God will come wherever we are and then call us back home. Thanks be to God. Amen.