God Depends On Us
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 2: 13 – 23. Focus on how God depends on us to act in order for God’s will to be done. Be sure to check out Kelly Crandell & the Choir following the sermon.
This is a heavy, even difficult story to read just four days after Christmas. If I were the lectionary editor, I would have wanted to close with the scene of the magi presenting the baby Jesus with gifts on bended knee. But not Matthew. Matthew tells a story that is grittier, more disturbing, but also very realistic, which is the the main value of this story.
Because Jesus’ birth upset the political and religious order of his day. He comes as God’s chosen king, the one who is to bring about the peace, justice, and equity of the kingdom of God. And so all earthly kings who put their own power and privilege first are terrified by the unexpected announcement of a new king’s birth in Herod’s back yard.
Which makes Herod a perfect but by no means lone example of what terrified power looks like. So terrified is he of the promise that God will, in this child, restore peace and justice that he is willing to slaughter all the male infants two years old and younger throughout his region. So Joseph, warned by an angel, flees this carnage and moves his family to Egypt.
Such a grim account of wholesale slaughter and night flights to safety would seem far-fetched were it not for similar atrocities and tragedies happening right now. How many children have died in Syria as we gather for worship? And how many families, right here in Hackensack are contending with their own private sorrows and hardships only exacerbated by expectations for a perfect Christmas?
So while the story Matthew tells may be dark and difficult, it rings true to life. Which is why, of course, he tells it. To let us know that in Jesus, Emmanuel, God did indeed draw near to us, took on our lot and life, experienced and endured all that we do – disappointment, fear, violence, even death. All so that we would know that we are not alone – that we do not suffer alone, fear alone, live and die alone. If anything, this is Matthew’s version of the Incarnation, which adds a lot that Luke’s version leaves out.
Sometimes life is beautiful and wonderful and filled with goodness and grace. And God is a part of that, giving blessing and celebrating with us and for us. And sometimes life is hard, gritty, disappointing, and filled with heartache. And God is part of that as well, holding on to us, comforting us, blessing us with the promise that God will stay with us through the good and the bad, drawing us ever more deeply into God’s loving embrace and promising that nothing – not even death – will separate us from God.
The Christmas story begins with the birth of a child. But it doesn’t end until this child has grown up, preached God’s mercy, been crucified and died and then raised again. Actually, it doesn’t end until Jesus draws all of us into that same story, raising us up to new life even amid the very real challenges that face each of us here and now.
This story matters because it tells us the truth: the sometimes difficult truth of unjust rulers and violence and private grief and personal pain and all the rest. But also the always hopeful truth that God has not stood back at a distance, but in Jesus God has joined God’s self to our story and is working – even now, even here – to grant us new life that we may not just endure but flourish, experiencing resurrection joy and courage in our daily lives and sharing our hopes and struggles with one another. Amen