... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Christmas 1 Year A
Message December 29, 2013

Incarnation: Who Jesus Is

Text: Matthew 2:13-23

Christmas Day has come and gone, and while I’m sure there was much celebration and joy in many households, the value and commemoration of the birth of Jesus lies not in his birth per se but in who he is and what his mission was. Christmas is about the identity of Jesus as Emmanuel and God’s presence in our history defining who we are and what our purpose is, and how we accomplish that purpose.

On this the first Sunday after Christmas, often called low Sunday for its seemingly antithesis to Christmas Day we come face to face with the grim reality of Jesus’ birth and the forces of evil opposed to it. We fondly recall the exploits of the Wise Men who journeyed from the east looking for a new king and found a deeper meaning for their lives. We remember the shepherds and their visitation in response to the angelic message. But now we hear of the opposition – those who saw in the birth a threat to their power, a voice which would awaken the consciousness of the people and a leader who would turn the status quo on its ear.

Matthew’s gospel was written from a perspective of Jewish ideology and it was imperative that Jesus’ identity would be made known through the fulfillment of Scripture. Thus we get all the various references to Old Testament prophecy. Jesus is seen to be not just a prophet but also king and true priest. As we read today’s gospel we find in it a story of divine guidance, godly protection and holy deliverance. One cannot help but hear this story of Jesus’ escape to Egypt and return to Nazareth in light of Joseph’s journey into Egypt, the providential deliverance and Moses and the subsequent Exodus. Even at this tender age Jesus is seen to be another Moses.

The raw reality of Herod’s actions not only bring to mind the hard-nosed treatment of the children of Israel by Pharaoh but highlight Herod’s character and heritage. Herod was not a true Jew but rather an Idumean who had been put on the throne by Caesar Augustus and as such was a vassal to Rome. The people really did not regard him as their rightful Davidic king. Herod knew this and he knew his position was tenuous even at best. Added to this a certain paranoia and we get a picture of a ruthless unjust man who killed his own sons for fear they would depose him, who built fortification throughout Judea so that he was never more than a day’s journey from security and who always sought revenge for any perceived slight to his dignity.

When the Wise men from the East failed to return, Herod was infuriated. But more than that he was greatly afraid of the prophecies that the child they had come to see would one day displace him from his throne. His only option was the option of Cain – to kill. He ordered the death of the male children of Bethlehem two years and younger according to the time of the birth as told him by the Wise men and his own counselor. While we may think the slaughter of the innocents as some blood bath, the historical reference to this is not corroborated by outside sources. Even Josephus does not give it much in his history. Perhaps because of the ruthlessness of Herod or perhaps the number involved who be scarce to note. Bethlehem was a small town or visage and perhaps a couple of hundred people. Even at best there may have been only 10-20 children years and younger, and only half of those male children. The killing of such a few in a world where death and killing was so common place would not have made the news – except in Matthew’s telling! And then the author makes it as a prophecy fulfilled rather than the horrendous event it was.

This story ought to awaken our senses to the pervasive nature of evil in the world and the reality of human involvement. There is a cosmic war of good and evil and humanity is in the midst thereof. In fact Scripture informs us that we are not only in the midst, we are the alternate target of that war and each of us must decide on what side we are to belong. Fortunately or unfortunately the vast majority are found to be between sides, having both good and bad qualities and so the battle continues.

Yet there is hope! For as Jesus’ birth gave a glimpse of God’s purposes to a few, the divine providence continued and by his ministry death and resurrection Jesus opened a path of salvation showing that despite all the doom and gloom, all the wickedness and greed, and all the lust and decay God is present, is here and is working so that we may be rescued. The real joy of Christmas is Immanuel – God with us – and in spite of all the difficulties all the turmoil all the devastation and human debauchery – we can celebrate God’s promise and strengthened by that dedicate ourselves to God’s service celebrating and worshipping this day and every day.

May the peace of Christ help us to surmount every obstacle so as to live in covenant with God and one another each and every day.