Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

"The Whole, Holy Mess of Christmas" – Matthew 2:13-23

Matthew 2:13-23

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.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 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.”

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. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: "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.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “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.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 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. 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.”

So, I didn’t want to skip this scriptural horror story about what we so eloquently call, “The Slaughter of the Innocents” altogether. But I thought we might soften things a bit, with a little help from the Barones. Does everyone remember “Everybody Loves Raymond?”

So, I didn’t want to skip this scriptural horror story about what we so eloquently call, “The Slaughter of the Innocents” altogether. But I thought we might soften things a bit, with a little help from the Barones. Does everyone remember “Everybody Loves Raymond?”

Believe it or not, I will come back to this in a minute. But first, back to today’s Gospel.

Lots of churches do skip over the bit from Matthew’s Gospel we heard a moment ago when it shows up in the lectionary, so soon after Christmas. And I almost did, too. Who wants to hear about the slaughter of innocent children while we’re still trying to bask in the beauty and romance of Christmas?

A friend told me once, anyone who has the grace to show up for worship on a Sunday morning after Christmas deserves to hear something better, something more joyful, something more gracious. And I kind of agree, but I also figure anyone who’s hardy enough to show up for worship on New Year’s Day could handle it.

Anyway, it all reminds me about the reality of the world where we live and about how all of that Christmas peace and love and hope and joy we celebrated last weekend feels, now, like it was some kind of a cosmic commercial break from the evil and the ugly of life in the real world. But this story about Herod’s evil ways – like so many similar stories being told in the news all over the world today – really is another call to remind us about just precisely why Jesus was born in the first place.

And we can pretend to be shocked or surprised or removed by centuries from the horror of Herod’s massacre. But we are kidding ourselves if we deny or dismiss that the same horrors exist, even now, in our day and age.

Even though many celebrated news that a handful of the children made it home for Christmas, there are still over 200 kids missing and unaccounted for from that mass kidnapping in Nigeria, at the hands of Boko Haram.

We know that something like 2 million children are exploited every year in a sinister, global slave trade. Women and girls make up 98% of the victims of that kind of trafficking and exploitation.

61 people were shot in Chicago, just over the Christmas weekend, and 11 of them died. Seven people were killed in that city on Christmas Day alone.

I learned recently that the need for foster families in Indiana was up something like 40% in 2016? It something I was able to notice – and then asked about - just based on the increased attendance at our little Foster Family Christmas party a few weeks ago, right here at Cross of Grace. There are upwards of 22,000 children in Indiana’s foster-care system, alone, and experts are pretty sure the cause for the increase has to do with the opioid epidemic in our state.

All of this on top of the refugees running for the borders, cities being bombed to oblivion in places like Aleppo, and the terror that apparently wreaked havoc in Istanbul, just last night.

My point is that children – too many of God’s children – are on the run and displaced and in danger and dying, still, from injustice and persecution and abusive power, like a modern-day version of what had Jesus, Mary and Joseph, running for their lives back in the day.

So let’s not pretend like this sort of evil and ugliness exists outside of the Christmas story… Let’s not blame God for not doing what we would like, or doing what we would do, if we could…  Let’s not doubt or deny or dismiss the troubles of the world around us for one more moment of another new year.

Let’s read this story – that holds it up to our face in ways we wish it wouldn’t – and let’s see a God who longs to lead and to love people, in spite of it. Let’s read this story – as part of the Christmas story – and let’s see a God who doesn’t stay swaddled in that manger for long… A God who didn’t show up just to hear the angels sing… A God who didn’t come to be coddled and cared for only when the nights are silent, only when all is calm and all is bright, only when the world is full of joy and peace and good-will toward men.

Let’s hear this story – as hard as it may be – and let’s see a God who isn’t afraid to get into the ugly, scary, death-dealing mess of our lives in this world. To do anything else – to skip over this part of the story – is like leaving the plastic on the sofa; it’s like never using the fine china; it would mean to leave the greatest gift of Christmas – God’s presence and hope for healing, forgiveness, mercy, and new life in Jesus Christ – wrapped up and underneath the Christmas tree untouched, unopened, and unshared with the world.

In this story we see God as not merely guiding and directing people from somewhere up there and out there, in a galaxy far, far away.  But we see the very presence of God – the flesh and bones of the Divine – bouncing around in the arms of… strapped onto the back of… nestled and nuzzled at the breast of Mary and Joseph as they risked their lives – and the life of Jesus – on the run, in those early days.

Because this is still our story. Rachel weeps, still, for her children. But God is with us, still, in the midst of life as we know it. And it is the kind of presence that is our strength and confidence, our comfort and our hope as we move ahead into another year that’s certain to be full of new struggles and new celebrations, of new challenges and new opportunities to be God’s people – in and for the sake of the world – where God’s love, born in Jesus Christ, is still very much alive and well and with us as we go; where God’s love, born in Jesus Christ is very much alive and well and with us come what may.

Amen.  Happy New Year. Merry Christmas.

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.