January 1, 2017
The anticipation and hope of Advent
and the peace and joy of Christmas,
The baby in the manger, the singing angels,
the silent night and holy night are over.
They quickly give way to the reality and horror of this
world that Jesus was born into.
Herod, the Jewish king has gotten wind
|Flight to Egypt, James Tissot, 1865|
from the Magi,
the astrologers and advisers,
that the stars indicate
that the Messiah has been born.
Herod sends them to
find the Messiah and report
back to him, he tells them,
so that he can honor him,
but really, he was afraid,
so he wanted to kill him.
And the Magi,
in the first act of civil disobedience
in the New Testament,
decided not to go back
and tell the powerful King
what he wanted to know
but to go to another country.
But Herod was so angry that the Magi would defy him,
that he ordered all children two years or younger
in the district of Bethlehem to be killed.
Mary and Joseph are warned in a dream
to leave just before this happens,
and they find themselves like millions
of other refugees around this world have:
escaping from the violence in their own towns
and finding themselves exhausted and vulnerable.
They have traded imminent danger for constant unease.
Egypt was not known as the most hospitable place
for Jews and I’m sure their time there was not very pleasant.
This whole story would seem fanciful,
unreal and even make believe
Some have suggested that it didn't happen.
The king who is so power hungry and afraid that
he would kill an entire generation of his own people,
a family that barely escapes in the cover of the night.
But of course, this outrageous story of violence
and genocide is one that we’ve seen
played over and over again in our own time:
Cambodia, El Salvador, Rwanda, Bosnia,
Kosovo, Darfur, and this year we’ve seen
the horror unfolding before our eyes in Aleppo, Syria.
Through television and the internet,
even if we haven’t been there in person,
we know what Rachel sounded like as she wept
for her children, we know the sight and sound of mothers
and others inconsolable at the loss of their loved ones all too well.
We’ve all promised “Never again”,
and we vow that now we’ll get together and do something
to make sure that this doesn’t happen ever again.
But it unfolds in front of our eyes again and we feel helpless.
Violence is a constant part of our lives as humans,
and it has been almost forever.
It’s almost as if we’re addicted to it.
It disgusts us, but we can’t look away,
It’s almost as if our world needs it in some strange way,
We know it’s wrong in one part of our brain,
but in the other, we justify it, we rally around it,
we cheer for our side when it happens,
we demand that our leaders kill our enemies.
We judge terrorists because they resort to violence
and then the only response we can come up with is more violence.
We’re either find ourselves encouraging it,
or we sit by quietly believing that there’s nothing we can do.
This is the world and the situation that Jesus
finds himself born into: not all calm and mild.
But a world that desperately needs help.
Some people think that this story has no place
in this time of Christmas cheer and happiness.
That it comes too close to the glow of candle light services.
Some churches would rather forget about Herod
and leave this part of gospel out of their worship and just
stop with the visit of the wise men and the frankincense and myrrh.
But this part of the Christmas story that Matthew gives us.
This is what he wants us to
remember and remind us of how Jesus began his life.
Matthew wants us to keep Herod in Christmas.
He has an important part of the Christmas story to tell.
The flight to Egypt and this slaughter of innocents here reminds us
of another story of innocents slaughtered in Exodus.
Before Moses leads the Israelites in the flight out of Egypt,
there was a tenth plague brought on Pharaoh and the Egyptians:
All the first born children of Egypt are slaughtered.
Matthew even uses some of the same lines from
the Exodus story to make sure we think of this story too.
Now the writers of the book of Exodus make it
very clear that this terrible slaughter is an act of a vengeful God
as punishment for not letting the Israelites free.
As most people understood at that time,
God was responsible for the good and for all the horrors of the world..
But Matthew tells us, with Jesus there is a new understanding,
a new revelation from Jesus about how the world works and how
God works and has worked throughout the ages.
Matthew understands that the violence in the world
does not come from God, it comes from humans.
It is a human resource, not God’s resource.
God is not vengeful and violent, but present and merciful.
Violence in all its forms is a human addiction
And Jesus has come to break us free of that addiction.
Matthew re-frames the enormous problem of violence
with the story of Jesus.
The birth of Jesus does not put an instant end to human tragedy
rather through Jesus, God becomes a part of it
to reveal to all of us the truth about our violence
and vengeance against one another.
The savior of the world is now a victim of this world’s oppression
and violence, and if we claim to love God and Jesus,
we can’t look away any more.
God came to be with us,
not just to give us a warm cozy feeling when we’re down,
God came to be with us to save us, and the whole world.
God’s plan of salvation for this world,
does not end with the birth of Jesus,
it is just the beginning of a very long plan,
revealing the truth to generation after generation
to break us free from our addiction to vengeance and violence and hate.
To save us from ourselves.
And so we learn that there is another way
besides the way of Herod and others throughout history.
Jesus teaches us that we don’t need to seek revenge, or get even.
We don’t need to respond to violence with violence.
There is forgiveness, loving our enemies,
praying for those who persecute us,
all the kingdom parables that Jesus taught us.
We learn it together, we teach each other,
and re-teach each other when we forget.
And we teach our children,
and they’ll teach their children.
Until one day, there will be no more Herods.
No more innocents slaughtered.
No more Bethlehems or Aleppos.
Until we don’t have to say “No More” any more.
For us and for our salvation,
Jesus came down from heaven,
was born of the virgin Mary,
and became a victim of this dysfunctional world
of real pain, brokenness, and political oppression.
Jesus became a refugee, an undocumented immigrant,
one of the outcast, a target of religion and politics,
and put on death row, and left to die.
To show us what we’re capable of, and to help the world to change.
Jesus came to us to save us from ourselves.
That is the hope of Advent,
That is the promise of Christmas.
That one day this world will get it.
That one day we will all be free.