Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 30, 2013

Sermon on Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

CAN ANYTHING TAKE AWAY CHRISTMAS?

 Text: Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

 Introduction

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.

I.

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.’” 

God’s plan of salvation centered in Jesus, and despite Herod’s plan, God’s plan was not to be deterred. Herod’s act of rage would not undo the Lord’s plan of redemption. Yes, there is no question that Herod’s rage caused serious suffering and sorrow to the parents of those little boys in Bethlehem; perhaps 20 little infants and toddlers were murdered because of the King’s command. And this was certainly a horrible upheaval for Mary and Joseph. There are no trains, planes, or automobiles to assist with this 175-mile journey, nor is there any time to plan, prepare, and pack. They simply had to get up and go.

We may not have a King Herod stirring up ruthless rage around us, but there is no question that the world around us has its own ways of trying to take Christmas from us. The recent furor over Duck Dynasty should show us that speaking the truth of God’s moral will often come with its own price—persecution. And when it comes to persecution, we have it pretty good when compared to the rest of the world! On Christmas Day, no less, bombs in Bagdad targeted Christians, some in the midst of worship, and killed at least 37 people and wounded many more.

But what makes matters worse is that we, who really don’t have it so bad when it comes to persecution, somehow can determine that our problems and are worse, are horrible, are scandals that no one should have to bear. We make mountains out of molehills, we assume the worst of our Christian brothers and sisters, we speak about them behind their backs as if it is no big deal, we find problems when there are no problems—and in the end, it is not just the world that tries to take Christmas from us, but even our own damnable sinful flesh plays the part of Herod.

II.

How should we look at the situations when the world tries to take Christmas from us? Our sinful nature loves to convince us that God is not in control. But our Christian nature knows better. Can you think of times in your life when you could see God’s blessings flow out of a situation that had been difficult? Can you think of times when God’s promise in Romans 8:28 came true for you in a very real way: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”?

Just look at the Gospel for today. The Holy Family escapes before Herod’s murderous plot is executed. Jesus and his family remains safely away from Herod’s jurisdiction during the rest of his reign. God directs Mary and Joseph back to Nazareth, and not just because it was their original place of origin before Jesus’ birth, but because God had planned that all along and had revealed that plan through what may have been the unwritten, verbal revelations of the Old Testament-era prophets.

What strikes me most working through these verses was to see that God was really in control even when it seemed like things were out of control. Matthew loves to quote the Old Testament in these opening chapters of his Gospel—after all, he is writing for a Jewish audience that knew its Old Testament fairly well. There are two Old Testament quotes in today’s Gospel, and another in the verses that are omitted from this reading. In verses 14-15, Matthew wrote, “[Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt. … And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Matthew shows us that God directed his Old Testament people out slavery in Egypt not only to rescue them but as a historical preview of the day when his one and only Son Jesus would be whisked to and from Egypt. In verses 22-23, Matthew wrote, “Having been warned in a dream, [Joseph] withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” Matthew shows us that God directed Jesus’ family back to Nazareth not just because it was “home” but because it was a part of God’s plan. In the verses omitted from this reading that describe the murder of the baby boys in Bethlehem, Matthew again quotes the Old Testament, and the way he leads into the quotation tells the reader that even though God did not will the murder of those boys, he still accomplished his will in spite of and even through the ruthless actions of King Herod.

Herod tried to take the Christ child out of the scene, but in the end it was Herod who died—and if secular historical records are to be believed, his death was an awful one. And so if God can take the ruthless plans of a murderous ruler and carry out his will even through that, will he not do the same for us?

Is the solution to the ongoing family bickering not more finger pointing but a call to all parties for repentance? Is the empty home and the loneliness some of us may feel also a good reminder for us to not leave the Scriptures unopened, but to turn to them and find true warmth and comfort in the Savior who was born for you? Are the financial woes that some of us may feel a way for God to get us back on our knees in prayer to help us rely on him for daily bread and to give us contentment for what we do have? Is it not true that the troubles of life cannot take away Christmas, but in the end God can use those troubles to draw us closer to the Christ child?

And how much more do we see that truth in the plan of salvation that was preserved in this Gospel account? Nothing was going to take away the Christmas plan of salvation. The murderous threats of Herod have not taken away the divine Son of God who was born for you. The hatred Jesus experienced from his enemies did not undo his unconditional love for you and his uncompromised perfection lived for you. The unjust arrest and inhumane crucifixion of Jesus did not take him away; it took our sin and guilt and punishment away! And nowhere are these truths more firmly proven than in the risen Jesus—the risen Jesus that the Herods of this sinful world wanted defeated, but who has defeated sin and death and Satan and the forces of this sinful world by his birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection.

What comfort God gives our conscience when we are weighed down with the reality of our sin! We may have made mountains out of our molehill-sized problems, but Jesus went to Calvary’s hill to forgive our sinful perspectives. We may have spoken ill of our brothers and sisters, but Jesus’ resurrection speaks loudly and clearly, “You are forgiven!” We may have assumed the worst of others, but through faith in Jesus God now assumes the best of you as he clothes you in the perfection of the innocent child born of Mary who came to be your Savior.

Conclusion

Whatever troubles come our way, they cannot take away Christmas from us. Whatever troubles come our way, they cannot erase the atoning work of Christ on the cross for us. Whatever troubles come our way, they cannot take the blessings of salvation in Christ from us. Life’s problems may ebb and flow every year, and Christmas Day may come and go every year, but Christmas’s blessings last forever! Amen.

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: