Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Sunday Sermon-December 30, 2007
I am continuing to do a lot of supply preaching, which is fun. When I prepare a sermon, I write it out, but I tend not to simply read the sermon, but add things. That's what I did here: I added a quote that is not found in the written sermon, but it is the theme that runs through the sermon. The quote comes from President Harry Truman. In response to the famous saying, "Give 'em Hell Harry!" he responded, "I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell. " With that, here is the sermon.
December 30, 2007
Plymouth Creek Christian Church
1977 was probably the best Christmas Day ever-at least for me. I was SO excited to get up and open presents-and that's what I did- waking my poor parents at 4:30 in the morning to open presents. My parents rebuffed my desire to open all my gifts, so I tried to get back to sleep-emphasis on the word- tried. I got up again at 6 to wake my parents. No dice. But my grandmother who was living with us at the time was willing to listen to her crazy grandson and got up with me to open presents.
Later that day, my Uncle Pablo, Aunt Cherry and their kids came by. My three cousins, Juanita, Felicita and Pablo Jr. were like siblings to me. We played with my new train set and had a great time. As I said, it was the best Christmas ever-or so I thought.
About a week later, Pablo showed up. He told us that Cherry had left him and took the kids. That began a four year battle that was really hard on the kids. In 1982, Pablo's ex-wife took the children and moved to California, and Pablo wasn't able to see children for several years.
The best Christmas ever.
Today's passage hardly seems like a Christmas passage at first blush. But the fact is, it is Christmas- in this world.
The passage starts with King Herod finding out that the Wise Men have avoided him. We didn't read this passage today, but the Wise Men, leaders from the East, came to see that which was called the King of the Jews. They went to ask Herod if they knew anything about this baby. This troubled Herod since he, of course, was the King of the Jews, appointed by Rome to rule over Israel. In his mind, this baby had to be a threat to his regime. He calls the Wise Men and told them to find the child and let him know where the child was so that he could also give honor to this King. But Herod wasn't interested in honoring the Christ child- he wanted to get rid of the competition.
The Wise Men were told in a dream not to go back to King Herod and they went another way. King Herod was angered by this, so he devises another plan. To go into Bethlehem and kill off all the male children under the age of two.
But God had other plans for the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Joseph was warned in a dream to flee Bethlehem and escape to Egypt. God was able to protect the Christ child from the wrath of a homicidal ruler.
So, what in the world does this passage have to do with the Christmas story? It seems so incongruous. I mean, we sing songs like "Silent Night" or "O Little Town of Bethlehem." during this time. But there is nothing silent about this passage, and Bethlehem is not so still and peaceful. What we see here is state-sanctioned infanticide. That doesn't seem very Christmasy.
Or is it?
Christmas is the time we remember God coming to earth in the form of a helpless baby to bring salvation-healing to all of creation. We celebrate that fact, but we forget that the world Jesus comes to is this world, a broken place full of sin and injustice. A world where marriages end, where rulers still oppress and kill without thought, a place where people have to flee for their very lives.
Christ comes to bring salvation to all of us-good and bad. But sometimes people don't see salvation in Christ's coming- what they see is a threat to their way of living. Christ came to bring salvation to everyone, including Herod. But Herod could not see that. Instead, he thought this meant he would lose his power as ruler and saw Christ as a threat to that. As someone once said, Christ brings good news, but that news doesn't always sound like good news to everyone.
The Christ child would not be greeted with cheers by everyone. As Jesus would grow up, the theme remained the same- Jesus would bring good news, but not everyone wold hear it that way and they would respond accordingly.
As Christ's followers, we share a similar fate: Christ's message of love will not always be accepted by everyone. Those Christians like Martin Luther King who believed that we are all equal were not always greeted with applause.
But even when Christ's message is not received favorably, we are reminded that God is with us. God moved Jesus away from Herod's schemes. Jesus doesn't live a safe life, but God is always with Jesus through the good and bad.
Christmas is about light, but that light is more about a candle shining in the darkness, than in the Christmas lights that festoon our trees at this time of the year. The darkness is still present, but the light is still shining and it refuses to be extinguished.
For my Uncle Pablo, Christmas was a time of dealing with the loss of a relationship. For others, it is a loss of a loved one or living in a war zone, or living out on the streets with no home. The story of Herod reminds us that even though Christ comes into the world to and that changes everything, there is still hurt and death and disease- for now. But there is also hope.
Christmas is not about happiness, but about hope. Hope that the powers that try to destroy us will not last forever. Hope that salvation is on the way whether we like it or not.
Thanks be to God. Amen.