First Sunday after Christmas, “Fleeing”

This sermon was preached at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka on Dec. 29, 2013. The scripture used includes: Isaiah 63: 7-9, Hebrews 2: 10-18 and Matt 2: 13-23. The title is: Fleeing!

I hope that after of all the preparation for Christmas that you all took some time this week to relax. I realize that with Christmas Day falling in the middle of the week, many of you probably had to be back at work on Thursday, but I still hope that you took a break to just rest for a time. I found that time on Thursday. We sort of had our own version of what the British called Boxing Day.

In our house we each went to our own corner, or room as in our case, turned on the television and just sat back and watched. I don’t know what James and Paulina viewed, but I finally had the time to watch my favorite Christmas story which is Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. I had wanted to do that all December, but finally had the time and the system to run a DVD.

For whatever reason, maybe it is because I have always enjoyed the old British classics, or maybe it is the message of how Ebenezer Scrooge changed into a good person, but I have always, always liked that story. In all honesty, I have only read the original once, but I have read dramatized scripts of it, and watched it countless times, so I knew the story well when I watched it this week, though as I paid at bit closer attention to it, I tried to take note of what was the real message that Dickens’ was trying to bring across other than just another story of good versus evil.

I am not totally resolved with how I believe in the ghost appearing to Ebenezer, but I liked his response that it is a matter of indigestion that causes the apparition. I am intrigued by the idea that spirits are destined to walk the earth and if they don’t do so in life, they will be doing it afterwards with the chains of meanness that they forged for themselves.

Before his transformation, Scrooge was a selfish and mean person. He wasn’t that way as a child, but seemed to be influenced by the way his father treated him. In fact, his behavior could have been a stereo-typical case for a sociologist or a psychologist. I never paid much attention to the scene with his father and sister before, but this time, I sort of understood what was behind his “Bah humbug” attitude.

You might wonder what Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation has to do with our story from Matthew for today, but if you just bear with me and I am able to stay on track, you might understand.

Initially, I wanted to focus today on Joseph. This scripture seems to be another version of what a good and faithful man God chose to be the earthy father of his one and only begotten Son, Jesus. Not only does Joseph have another dream, but he obeys it immediately. He doesn’t say, I will do it in the morning or next week when I can get things arranged; he gets up and does it right away. It says he got up during the night and took the mother and baby and headed to Egypt. He realized the danger and reacted. Later in the passage, he listens to another dream and again follows the directions he is given.

The story we have today seems to jump ahead and then next week we go back to the story of Epiphany when the wise men came to visit the baby. If we would stay in Chronological order, it would seem better to do the wise men today and this story next week, but that is not how it is laid out for us, I am at a loss, but I guess that is part of what I still need to learn. Yet, perhaps it is all part of the idea that time is not the issue, but the lesson is.

For whatever the reason, today we are reading, learning and talking about more dreams for Joseph. Some of the resources I checked this week, compared/connected Jesus’ father Joseph to the Joseph who was sold into slavery and ended up in Egypt where he interpreted dreams and became a wise leader who saved many people because of his ability to store the grain and get the country through a terrible famine. The same source mentioned how God led the people of Israel out of Egypt and so through the dream led the family of his son out of Egypt through the dream sent to Joseph.

In reading about all of this moving around with a young child, I can’t help but think of when my own children were young. I am sure many of you can remember back to when your own children were small. I can relate to not wanting to leave the house very often. It was a pain to pack up the diaper bag and clothing and toys and such. When we had Jessica and Victoria, we filled our little minivan to capacity and drug them everywhere. By the time Paulina came along, we just stayed home. It was too much work, and we didn’t have the energy any more.

To me this trip in the dark of night via donkey really shows the faithfulness of Joseph. And this is where I wanted to stop. I wanted to just talk about that idea of Joseph and all his wonderful beliefs and the way he followed God’s instructions, but as usual this is a story with a conflict, and the conflict is so awful, we would rather not read it let alone think about it or deal with it. Herod is so bent on keeping his own power as king of the Jews that he is bound and determined to kill this baby that the wise men and sages have told him about.

I wanted to focus just on Joseph. I wanted to ignore the evil, the meanness that is in between and all around those dreams. I just wanted to talk about the happy. It is so much easier for me to read a book for the happy. I don’t like stories with conflicts and pain. I was the kind of teacher who refused to read Old Yeller in class because I know the dog dies. I know that is life and reality, but I don’t like it, and I don’t want to have to deal with it.

But there I was on Thursday sitting in James’ recliner watching A Christmas Carol and listening to little Tiny Tim with his “God Bless us Everyone,” and I realized that stories are hardly ever all happy. There is always some sort of conflict that we have to overcome. There is always some obstacle in the way of real happiness. There is always a little bit of an evil or a meanness going on.

And that is when I realized that as much as I wanted to focus on Joseph and his obedience and his goodness and all the reasons why God chose him to father and raise and protect the young Jesus. I realized that we better take some time to look at the evil that was threatening the baby. The story had to be about the mean, cruel, selfish ruler that wanted no part of sharing his title “King of the Jews.” It is Herod that we need to look at. It is the darkness of the heart of Herod in the story that allows us to see the light of the Christ child.

The sources that I checked into seemed to focus on discounting God’s part in the killings of the young children. Apparently there was a question at one time asking if God caused Herod to order these killings as a way of fulfilling the predictions of the prophet Jeremiah. If we believe that, then we believe that God causes evil, and that is certainly not anything we can ever accept.

No, we can never think that way. Instead we need to understand that God is able to see time –all of it—at once. God is able to look forward and backward and know what will happen and what has happened while we are experiencing what is happening. It is not that God causes our choices, but that God knows our choices before we make them. Perhaps the issue is about our concept of: Time, we think of it as passing by us, but perhaps time is static, and we are passing through it.

As mean and ugly as the story of Herod killing those children is, it is one more piece of the Christmas story. It is one more part of what makes the miracle of Jesus birth and life and ministry so amazing. It wasn’t a conflict free, wonderful, happy little story all about fuzzy animals and singing angels. It wasn’t even a story about a grouchy old man, who changed his attitude after a few dreams that gave him a shot of reality. No, the Christmas story, the whole Christmas story is one of danger and hardship and complete humility and obedience on the part of the earthly family of Jesus.

I think that I can kind of sort of start to understand that the order of today’s story is about the lesson. It is about the fact that we make the choice, and it isn’t always a smooth or easy choice, but when we chose to be obedient as Joseph and Mary were, we are able to live with Jesus in our midst each and every day. When we accept Jesus and what he has done for us, we are able to become heirs to the kingdom of God. And when we choose to give up the grouchy, selfish attitude that we see in old Ebenezer Scrooge, we are the winners. Choosing to live the life that God wants for us is our choice, but in making that choice, we too become the children of God. Amen!

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