Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas 2 2010

2nd Sunday after Christmas – Matthew 2:13-23

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
So, there is Joseph. He has been a fantastic, understanding husband, a loving, wonderful father. Not only did he not divorce Mary quietly when she turned up pregnant, but he stayed with her, took care of her. And then, when the child Jesus was born, even in a stable, he stuck with them both. Through hardship and toil, Joseph stays there. And then, things finally start to look up. Wise men from the East arrive – gentiles – and they bring with them wondrous gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are wondrous gifts – gold is gold. Frankincense and myrrh are highly valuable spices, high dollar items. Being responsible for raising the Messiah looks like it might an okay job after all. And then Joseph falls asleep – and then, once again an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, and the angel says, “Rise, 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.” How terrifying would this be? Coming off of the high of the visit of the Wise men, then suddenly get up, take your family, and run for your life.

Joseph and his family go – they flee to Egypt. And this is something that the Christians in Egypt remember with pride – there is a church built over a grotto where they claimed the Holy Family lived while in Egypt – really pretty, very old Church. When I was there and people found out I was a pastor, and I'd hear, “Oh, well, you know Joseph brought Jesus and Mary to Egypt. You would see artwork of the Holy Family – Mary on a donkey holding Jesus, Joseph leading, normally by a river, maybe with the pyramids in the background. And I suppose this is something I would delight in if I were Egyptian, for Jesus and His family are kept safe in Egypt – live there for several years.

But, back home – there is no safety. King Herod had been plotting against Jesus from the moment he heard of his coming from the wise men. At first, he was hoping for a surgical strike. He told the wise men to come back and tell him where the Christ Child was so that he too might “go and worship”. Herod at least was planning on a surgical strike, an assassination to rid himself and his family of this potential rival. But then, the wise men are warned by God to avoid Herod. And so, when that plan falls through – Herod decides to abandon precision and just go for mass damage. He sends the troops in – and he's not sure how old Jesus would be – so all the infants and toddlers, two years and younger – just wipe them all out. It's an utterly horrifying scene – soldiers marching in, snatching children and killing them.

Between the flight to Egypt, which would have been terrifying, and then the slaughter of the innocents, we have two of the most terrifying, horrifying events in Scripture back to back. And it seems especially odd because we hear this right after the joy of Christmas. You have this wonderful high followed by an incredible low. But, when you think about it, this is really how this world goes. There are days, there are times of great joy, that are often followed up by times of terror and tragedy. This serves to remind us of the reality of the things which we speak, the things which we hear. Christ Jesus came into our world, the world we know, and He came to share in our lives – He saw the same ups and downs that we do. He was made Man – He experienced all the things in this life that we experience – He is real, He is really a human being.

Christ Jesus knows and understands the fears, the terrors, the disappointments that you have – the things you wouldn't think of, wouldn't dream of telling to another person – Christ our Lord knows and understands. He has shared in your life. This is one of the great comforts that we have at Christmas time, for here we see and focus on the fact that God becomes Man. There are many times when we look at Christ, and we see His strength, His might – and we see that He is above us. We see Him heal – none of us does that routinely. We hear His preaching, see His unfailing love – and in comparison, we see our lack. We see that He is above us – and as God He most certainly is. But then we hear texts like these – and we see and realize that this God who by rights is above us, who by rights is so far above us that we could never reach Him – this same God has come down, and He has chosen to share in the things of our life, our troubles, our sorrows, our pains. Jesus knows them, Jesus has chosen to share in them. He was made man.

This is precisely what the Messiah, what the Christ was called to do – to be among us. To share in the events and life of human beings. This shows up in verse 15 – This was to fulfill what the LORD had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called My son.” Think like a Jew for a moment. As we heard in our Old Testament lesson, when things in the Holy Land were dangerous, God sends Jacob and his family to Egypt, there to be provided for, there to be kept safe, but with the promise that after they had grown they would be brought back to the promised land. And is God true? Well, as a Jew your highest celebration of the year is Passover – and what do you celebrate at Passover? That God called the people of Israel back out of Egypt where they had been in bondage, and brought them to the holy land. To be Jewish was to worship the God who brought you and your people up out of the land of Egypt. So, what does all this mean? It means that Jesus is the Messiah, He is the One who was promised – the One who suffers all that His people suffer in order to win them from that suffering.

Herod eventually dies, and Joseph and Mary and Jesus get to return homeward – although as Herod's son is ruling, they end up in Nazareth, in the north, well out of the way – but again, this is good, for the Scriptures had said of Jesus, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” And it is there in Nazareth that Jesus would grow to manhood, it is from Nazareth that Jesus would travel to the Jordan river to be baptized by John. And we see that throughout the trial and terrors of life, Christ Jesus is preserved.

So, is this merely a matter of God playing favorites? God liking His own Son more than He liked those children left in Bethlehem? No, not at all. God doesn't play favorites the way we sometimes think He does, the way we sometimes wish He would. We don't get to butter God up so He'll make sure we have an extra sweet 2010. Rather this – God's focus is upon salvation. It was not simply that Jesus escaped Herod's soldiers as a child and that's it, that's the end of the story. No, Jesus' time to be taken by soldiers and paraded in front of another Herod would come – but before that would happen, He would have to preach and heal, He would have to cast out demons and teach people about God, He would have to show and demonstrate to all that He was indeed the promised Messiah – and then and only then would the soldiers find Him, there in the garden of Gethsemane, and He would not flee then, He would not run away, He would not let His disciples cut Him a path to freedom. No, when the soldiers come that night in Gethsemane, Christ is there, and He is led off, He is examined by Herod and Pilate, and then He is put to death upon a cross as the soldiers look on.

Why? Matthew quotes the prophet Jeremiah concerning the slaughter of the innocents - “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” It would have been terrible to be amongst the mothers there that day, and indeed, they would have been inconsolable. The only reason Jesus was not among the children slaughtered on that day, was so that He might be led like a Lamb to His own slaughter on Good Friday, and because Jesus lived to go to the cross, something most wondrous has happened. Those mothers, who wept inconsolably that day, have now been reunited with their children, the first martyrs of the Christian Church – because Christ Jesus has won life and salvation for His people. Those mothers that mourned the death of their children now stand next to those children in heaven, singing the praises of Christ Jesus who went to the cross for them.

It was not a case of favoritism that led Christ out of Bethlehem and into Egypt – it was because God would have us be saved. Everything that God does revolves around salvation – and the Messiah would be preserved until He could win us His salvation by His own death. So then, what does this mean for us? Peter writes: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. Christ Jesus, God's own Son, suffered for our sake. As Christians, we too are now God's own children by virtue of our Baptism, and we too may be called upon to suffer in this life – but when that happens, when we experience hardship and fiery trial, we understand it is a chance to bear witness to Christ and His salvation. Whatever we face, we face in hope, and when people see our hope in the midst of suffering and trial, they will see our Lord and His salvation. This is true in our lives – for everywhere you go, you go as a Christian, you do all bearing the name of Christ, and your actions point to Him and His love for all. In America, our trials tend to be light – in other places – well, the Nigerian fellow who tried to blow up our plane – in Nigerian Muslims attack Christians all the time. In other places in the world the trials our brothers and sisters in Christ face are much more fiery than ours – but whether here at home or far away – we rejoice in all things and always point to Christ, and give thanks to God that He allows us to point others to Christ.

Because the ultimate truth is that Christ Jesus has come and has shared in our life, He has won us victory over sin and death and the grave, so nothing we see during the course of our days has any true power over us – we are Christ's, and so we have victory. And now, we pray that God would give us faith to not only hold fast to this truth ourselves, but that we might have the strength to show forth this hope in the week and year to come. This He has promised to do by His own Holy Supper, so let us then prepare for His most wondrous feast. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

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