Sermon from 1st Sunday after Christmas

A study in Joseph’s movement through
Law and Gospel
Love of God in free service to neighbor
Obedience in suffering

Intro the scene: Today we continue the celebrations of Christmas as we become witnesses to the reality that Joseph raised this holy child in a world which provides grave threats to the child born to his beloved wife Mary.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The shepherds visited. Mary treasured all these things in her heart and the shepherds returned glorying and praising God.

Later, when the Holy Family are in a house in Bethlehem, wise men visit bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh.

Then a difficult transition is made that seems so jarring in the midst of the carols and presents. Joseph is warned in a dream to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until told. For Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Herod’s desire to destroy this child is an indication that opposition will follow Jesus throughout his life.

Joseph rose and followed the commands of the angel. The family remained in Egypt until the death of Herod, interestingly we can use this information to help understand when Jesus was born. Herod died in 4 BC. So certainly Jesus was born before Herod’s death and so born before 4 BC.

There is a child’s story told about the Holy Family hiding in a cave. A spider was there in that cave and wanted badly to do something for the little King. The spider decides to give what he can – he spins a web at the entrance of the cave, creating a curtain that keeps out the evening cold. Then some soldiers come looking for the Holy Child and approach the cave. Seeing the spider’s web is undisturbed, they assume the cave is empty. The spider saved the little King’s life! So as the legend goes, this is why we put tinsel on our Christmas trees, recalling the glistening web of the spider at the cave’s entrance. There is of course no corroboration for this story, but it is lovely to tell how this little child, in whom heavenly and earthly had become one, humbled himself to need the care and protection of Joseph and even that little spider.

The fright of Joseph and Mary, as the rose with the child to flee to Egypt, is so jarring against the backdrop of the visit of the shepherds and the wise men.

Some families have known first hand the two-fold reality of Christ being born and specifically being born into a world full of sin and struggle. On Christmas Eve there were people in the emergency rooms of the hospitals around us. On the day after Christmas I was in a hospital visiting someone and I was struck by the reality that even while I enjoyed opening presents with my family and enjoyed a peaceful Christmas day, there were many who were suffering and dying.

I was also grieved to read that there were Christians in Iraq that heard the sounds of bombs jarringly disrupt their worship and kill 37 people.

This first Sunday after Christmas with its gospel reading from Matthew reveals that we cannot be blind to the real world in which Jesus is born.

How do we worship the newborn king while we live in a world filled with so much evil?
We will answer this question as we move from the majesty of the miraculous birth of our Lord and him receiving of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, to Joseph being warned in a dream to take his family and flee to Egypt.

Joseph and the Holy Family experience the grave struggle against sin. Herod was breathing his murderous threats against this child knowing that he has been deceived by the magi who, having been warned in a dream, returned home by another way.

We continue to live in a world with Herod type men and women who seek to harm the good news message of Jesus. We continue to live in a world in which people still must seek refuge, shelter, protection from the dangers of this world.

Joseph is a witness to us that we cannot control how the good news is shared in this world. Jesus arrived in the midst of an evil world. We can respond like Herod and so see Jesus as a threat to our power and selfish desires. Or we can respond like Mary who pondered everything in her heart, or like the shepherds that returned glorying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard, or like Joseph we can rely on God to guide us.

Joseph did not rely on his own strength to defeat the threat of Herod. He trusted in the word of God that was delivered to him by the angel. Our deliverance from the evil of Herod continues to have trust in the Word of God.

The response to Jesus being born can be either to breathe murderous threats of Herod or care taking of Joseph. Which response will you make?

God will continue to bring into his world the good news of Jesus, even while the threats of evil seem to silence the celebrations. The Gospel of Matthew shows God’s controlling hand works so that even the evil of Herod would serve his divine purposes. There were prophecies that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, come out of Egypt, and be a Nazarene. God worked through the treachery of the world to yet accomplish his purposes.

The plan of God for salvation through Christ moves relentlessly forward. The evil in this world cannot stop this good news and will only find themselves unwittingly used by God to fulfill his promises in even more remarkable ways. Men who fight against the promises of God will fail.

Herod the Great died. Jesus and his family were able to return. They did not settle in Bethlehem because they heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod. Archelaus was known for his evil and in AD 6 the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem forced Rome to recall him and he was exiled.

As dependent as a child is in this world, God yet reveals that he can fulfill his promises. Our greatest strength is found in humbly trusting in the plans and purposes of God and so trust him to be our salvation. In the trust that God is our salvation, we will love God and serve our neighbors. Our obedience may bring us into frightful moments of suffering, but we will trust God to be our protector and guide. Even in the midst of the greatest of evils and treachery we can remain faithful to God. The work of Jesus was not filled with interruptions or detours. God worked through the weakest moments to reveal his ability to bring about our salvation.

In your weak moments that jolt you away from the praises of the glories of the angels, trust in God to be your salvation.


Wicked Times call for a Word that Endures

King Herod ordered that John the Baptist should be beheaded. This is a tragic event that takes place in the middle of Jesus public ministry.

John was imprisoned by Herod. Herod’s wife, Herodias, was tired of hearing from John. You see Herod had married his brother Philip’s wife… Herodias. John had been saying, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Herodias was angry with John and looked for the opportunity to have him killed. Herod would not kill John because he feared John. Herod feared John because Herod knew John to be a righteous and holy man.

Herod was perplexed by John but also gladly listened to him. The historian Josephus wrote that Herod imprisoned John at Machaerus, a fortress overlooking the Dead Sea.

Herodias found her opportunity when Herod held a party. Herodias’ daughter danced and pleased Herod and his guests. Herod said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you, up to half of my kingdom”

Herod might have been speaking in a drunken stupor filled with hyperboles but nonetheless Herodias was not going to let this moment pass by.

The girl consulted with her mother and then said to Herod, “The head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

Herod was exceedingly sorry but he did not want to break an oath in front of all of his guests. The head of John the Baptist was handed to the girl and she gave it to her mother.

This is a wicked story that can strain the room we give to God to show how He is at work in this world. I want God to step in the way of these kinds of wicked moments and stop them from happening. Why do such horrible moments have to happen? Is there not a different way God can work to reveal His plan of salvation for us?

These kinds of difficult events may strain our faith in God as powerful and at work in this world, but it is important for me to remember it is precisely because of these kinds of moments that Jesus has come into our world.

God does not abandon us to our terrible sins. He does not separate himself from this dismal world but remarkably becomes flesh and dwells among us. Immanuel – God is with us.

The Word of our Lord God endures forever and the wicked moments of our sinful world will not stop Jesus from carrying our burdens and giving us rest.

Epiphany–Matthew 2:1-11

January 6 we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany. This feast rejoices that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. To me Epiphany is the revelation that God’s love in Jesus Christ is for all the world, even in a time of fear and self-serving grips on power.

The wise men saw a star rising and came looking for the king of the Jews to worship him.

Maybe these magi were familiar with Numbers 24:17,

I see him, but not now;
   I behold, but not near;
a star shall come of out Jacob,
   and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
  and break down all the sons of Sheth.

We do not know how many wise men there were or what their names File:Cologne Cathedral Shrine of Magi.jpgwere, but the cathedral in Cologne has a shrine to the three kings, Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchoir. This shrine reportedly holds the bones of three men. I think the shrine is a beautiful piece of art, but it misses the point. The light of the star did not come to shine on these three men, but to shine for these three men to see Jesus.

Scripture does not record details of the names of these magi. I think that Matthew could have found out the names of these men and included these details. By not including the number or names of these men Matthew helps point us to their mission. Their mission was not to make a name for themselves. There mission was to see and to worship the one born King of the Jews.

The wise men went to Jerusalem. They went to the people of Judah, but found in Jerusalem fear instead of blessing. In Genesis 12 we can read about how God had blessed Abram and his offspring so that they could be a blessing to all the nations. In Isaiah 56:7 we find the reason God had given the people of Israel a place of worship and prayer was to be a light to all the nations, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Led by Herod the King, the city instead became a place of darkness and fear. The priests and scribes knew the answer of promise found in Micah. But the hope of Micah and all the prophets remained elusive because they were filled with fear. The people were experience the painful truth that in the darkness of our sin, we will not see Jesus with our own eyes.

I love how Matthew 2:9-10 says that when the wise men left Jerusalem they saw the star rising again and were rejoicing with very great joy. When we are seeking hope and finding only fear, we are filled with exceedingly great joy when God graciously guides us to hope.

I know that people are in dark times and look around finding that their lives have become a bunch of broken pieces. They want to put their lives back together but in the darkness of their shame and fear they do not know how to live with any joy or hope.

I pray that we continue to find light shining in our lives, even in times of deep despair. Because God is gracious and full of mercy, he sees the times of our despair. He sees us struggling to put all the pieces of our lives together and amazingly he sends his amazing grace to dwell among us.