Sermon for the 2nd Sunday After Christmas Day, Year A

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday After Christmas Day, Year A

Jan 05, 2020

Passage:Matthew 2:13-19

Preacher: The Rev. Leann Wigner

Series: Christmas

Category: Incarnation, Kingdom of God

Keywords: christmas, kingdom, epiphany, inclusivity, refugee


Close to the beginning of December, my family decorated our house for the holiday season.  We put up lights outside, we set up our tree, and we put decorations around the house. Of course, every family has those “special” things that we put up around the house during Christmas.  Things that have been in the family for a long time, things that have been handed down by family members, things that hold special meaning. For me, one of the most special Christmas decorations that we put out in December is our nativity scene.  Of course, it is special because it is a reminder of the Nativity of our Lord, but it is also special because my mom painted it when I was a child. I remember how hard she had worked on it. How she painted it and then fired it in the kiln. So, as you can imagine, the nativity set holds a special place of honor in our home.  It sets in the dining room, and serves as a reminder every day of the coming of the Christ…..Now, as lovely as that story is, I need you to know that I live with two jokesters, my husband and my son, who constantly keep on my toes. And throughout the season of Advent, I looked into this beautiful, special keepsake that reminds me of the coming of the Christ child, and I would see the shepherds and their animals, the wisemen and their gifts, Mary, Joseph, the tiny child laying in the manger, and an angel, AND, depending on the day, anything from He-man to a velociraptor would also be looking down in the manger as well.  As silly as the two guys I live with are, they really did provide a good meditation for the Christmas season. The presence of the velociraptor and He-man at the crèche has made me contemplate – many times throughout the holiday season – what belongs in the nativity and what does not. I have wondered about what we add that shouldn’t be there, and I have wondered what should be there, that we silently subtract. I came to the conclusion that more times than not, we subtract more than we add.  

Our gospel reading for today is filled with many elements that we subtract from the story of the birth of Christ.  Our reading from Matthew, begins with the wise men. While the wise men make their way to the crèche on the Feast of Epiphany, the wise men get sanitized in the telling of Jesus’ birth.  In so many of our traditional Christmas carols, we make these men into kings, but the truth is that the word “magi” which we translate as “wise men” literally means “magician.” It is a Babylonian, better yet – it is even a Zoroastrian - title that refers to teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, soothsayers, and sorcerers.  The story of the wise men make so much more sense when we realize the reason these men were following around a star was because they were astrologers – readers of the stars. And I believe that the wonderful and beautiful thing about these wise men is that God spoke to them and led them, through their own faith, to the precious babe Jesus. Let that sink in. God spoke to astrologers about the birth of Jesus and lead astrologers to be present at the birth of Christ.  The presence of the magi at the birth of Jesus represents that God is doing something big – something global – something so much more than Judaism and the Judean countryside would be able to contain.

Our gospel reading today also highlights King Herod the Great and his son Archelaus as part of the birth narrative.  In our story today, Herod the Great is seeking the life of Jesus because Jesus represents a challenge to his throne as the promised Messiah – the king of Israel. Herod is a paranoid, panicking king who is eager to kill anything that gets in the way of maintaining his position as one in power.  So, when Herod finds out that the wise men are searching for the promised Messiah in the town of Bethlehem, he instructs his men to kill all the male children two years old and younger. The one thing you need to understand about Herod is that this behavior is par for the course. Herod was egotistical, he was impulsive, he was ruthless, and he was constantly paranoid about Rome taking away his power.  That makes for a very bad combination in a national leader. As a result of his character, Herod had a large number of people executed or assassinated, including members of his broader family and even some of his own wives and sons. In view of such executions, the emperor Augustus reportedly quipped, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than son” (Macrobius, Saturnalia, 2:4:11). The thing that we miss if we don’t see Herod the Great as part of the birth narrative, plotting behind the movements of the wise men, is that we don’t see how dangerous the idea of Jesus really is, and how politically revolutionary it was for the king of the Jews – the Messiah - and the Savior of the world to have such a humble beginning, as a poor, homeless, humble little child who was being chased by a frantic, ruthless, lunatic king.  Our nativity scenes do a great job of conveying the peace which Jesus brings, but none of them convey exactly how dangerous the idea of the Christ really is.  

Lastly, our gospel reading for today also highlights as part of the story of the nativity the dangerous and terrifying flight of a small refugee family made up of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing their homeland in order to avoid political persecution.  Not only is Jesus poor and homeless and humble, but Matthew wants you to hear that he is also a refugee, a stranger in a foreign land. And as a refugee and as foreigners, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would have been counted as the most vulnerable, the most impoverished, the most defenseless people on the face of the planet according to the standards of Jewish law.  In fact, in every age – even in our world today - refugees and immigrants rate among the most vulnerable people. It is interesting to think about why Jesus became incarnate as a small, poor, helpless refugee, as opposed to something else. Why, in our gospel reading today, is Jesus fleeing for his life, counted among the most vulnerable people, instead of laying in an elaborate crib in a palace, wrapped in fine blanket, being waited on by servants?  The fact that Jesus came as a helpless child of two poor Jewish parents who are fleeing for their lives shows something about who Jesus came to be. The fact that God incarnate in Jesus Christ became not only man, but a poor, helpless, refugee shows God’s unconditional regard and empathy for those who were the lowest of the low. Even as a tiny baby, Jesus sends a message to the world – I am a different kind of king, I will have a different kind of kingdom, and the people who will be included in this kingdom are not murderous kings, but lowly shepherds, and helpless refugees, and faithful priests from a different religion reading the signs of the stars, and little children, and unwed mothers, and impoverished carpenters, and uneducated fisherman, and broken but eagerly faithful tax collectors, and questioning skeptics, and women asking annoying questions, and the blind, and the lame, and the sick, and the sinners.  That makes for a truly strange nativity scene. Maybe He-man and the velociraptor do belong with all the other strange characters surrounding the birth of Christ afterall.  The next time you look at a nativity scene, it is okay to let that scene invoke a feeling of peace that these scenes are supposed to invoke . But don’t forget all the other stuff too.