CAN ANYTHING TAKE AWAY CHRISTMAS?
Text: Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
On Christmas Eve, you experienced the joy of opening up gifts. But a few days later, the joy is gone because the family is back to bickering as usual. On Christmas Day, you experienced the warmth of gathering with extended family or friends for Christmas dinner. But a few days later, the warmth is gone in a house that seems cold and empty because a loved one is no longer with you. On Christmas Eve and Day, you experienced the thrill of worship with beautiful music in a beautifully decorated building celebrating the beautiful Christmas gospel message. But a few days later, the thrill is gone because the bills still show up in the mail, the paychecks are still too thin, or the job search has gone on too long. The Christmas season is supposed to last twelve days starting on Christmas Day, but we don’t have to get very far into those twelve days before it seems like Christmas has been taken away from us.
I am not going to pretend that everyone’s holiday celebration automatically dampens on December 26, but I also cannot pretend that a good majority of the people gathered in God’s house aren’t facing their own sets of crosses and problems, and that the concerts and pageants and family gatherings of Christmas are only temporary distraction from the realities of life. And I also cannot pretend that there isn’t a part of us that feels like Christmas is taken away from us far too soon after the celebrations are ended and the regular routine revs up again.
So what is it that leads to this all-too-common problem? What causes Christmas to seem like it’s being taken from us, and where is the cure? The Gospel for today will help us get to the heart of this matter. In Matthew chapter two, we see an individual who literally, actually tried to take away Christmas!
Contrary to common assumptions, the Wise Men who came to visit Jesus did not come on the heels of the shepherd’s exit on Christmas night. They likely came several months later, perhaps even a year and several months later. Jesus is called a “child” here rather than the Greek word for “infant,” and based on King Herod’s murderous actions in the verses omitted from our reading, Jesus might have been close to two years old.
The opening verse of our Gospel introduces us to King Herod’s attempt to literally take away Christmas. “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’” Herod the Great was appointed King over Judea by the Romans in 40 B.C., and he was still ruling at the time of Jesus’ birth. He had a record of paranoia and ruthlessness, perhaps seen no more clearly than in this account. The Wise Men’s quest to find the King of the Jews led Herod to fear a rival king since he really had no clue about the King of Kings who had come to win the world’s salvation and establish an eternal, spiritual kingdom.
Have you ever traveled with an infant or a toddler on an airplane? After three children, I think the Strey family has this down to a science a lot more than we used to, but it is no easy task—and I would argue that it’s much harder to travel with a toddler than an infant. And we’re only talking about a plane ride of a few hours. Now put yourself in Joseph’s sandals and in Joseph’s era. In the middle of the night he receives this warning from the Lord’s angel. And what does he do? “He got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Read More…