This past Sunday I had the opportunity to visit family and celebrate the holidays. While away, I asked Leigh Peterson, church member and Director of C.U.P.S., to preach. I'm sharing her sermon with her permission, though she insisted I share a knock knock joke first.
Interrupting Wise Men.
(interrupting) RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!! Herod's going to kill you, and your little baby, too!
Now back to the theological reflection you have come to appreciate: Sermon by Leigh Petersen on 12/26/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Lafayette, LA
Whew…. We made it…
We have come a far ways….
In just a few weeks, there has been so much preparation…. Hustling and bustling…. And so now, we’ve finally made it….
And I don’t know about you, but I have no energy left.
And then I read the Gospel account of Jesus’ birth and thought – well…. Maybe it could be worse…..
That 1st Christmas must have been exhausting for the Holy Family…
Mary and Joseph weren’t married – maybe they were engaged – and I’m learning that that has its own amount of pressures…. [Leigh is engaged and cares for a young child whose mother is mildly mentally challenged] But perhaps that was different back then..
Anyway, Mary becomes pregnant – and it isn’t Joseph’s kid…
Luckily, Joseph has a dream that convinces him it is God’s baby and that Mary didn’t “cheat” on him…
So, he doesn’t leave her – but there has to have been some tension there for a bit…
Joseph’s dream might have resolved that particular tension…. But then they had to process what the dream said… Mary is pregnant with God’s baby..… um… so that means….the baby will be the Messiah! – ok….um… no pressure….
Can you imagine?? – as any 1st time parent can tell you, the preparation for having a baby is insane… you gotta get all the books… you gotta figure out the theme for the nursery, assemble the crib, and come up with a name…
God, trying to be helpful, perhaps – picks a name for Mary and Joseph’s child - at least they won’t have to do that….
But they still have to figure out how to navigate some treacherous social conditions… pregnancy before marriage is not going to be well-received in their world….
And just to make things more fun...
There is a census. And you have to go to the town where you are from….
So Joseph and a very pregnant Mary hit the road. Ever traveled with a pregnant woman? THAT can be stressful….
And then they get to Bethlehem and they have no where to stay… They had to go to Bethlehem because that is where Joseph is from…. He MUST have had relatives there….
My guess is that they requested refuge in the home of a family member, but weren’t allowed to stay because of the unwed pregnancy…. I mean – it would be a disgrace…. How dare they?
Can you hear Joseph’s great-aunt? – I can’t believe Joseph had the nerve to show up on my doorstep looking for a place to stay – with his pregnant girlfriend….
The holy family is Homeless…. Wandering… Outcasts….
And in the midst of this they are preparing for a birth… and preparing for any birth would be stressful enough…. But this is the birth of the Messiah….
It really makes the stress of my preparations for Christmas morning 2010 look pale in comparison….
Fighting mall traffic to find the perfect gift is just NOT as bad as traveling for days to find a place to stay in order to have a safe place to give birth….
Anyway, they end up in an inn…
And our sweet Christmas carols and beautiful nativity sets have a way of making this sound so sweet and beautiful in our heads…. But really, a stable is messy… and just sorta gross. Not a place you’d want to spend the night…
And then, of course Mary still has to give birth – also not an easy process, or clean…. Or very pretty….
I’m sure the birth was sweet and beautiful – yes. But not clean and certainly not very “silent”…. When I think of the Christmas carols and how we idealize things, it is almost humorous…
“Away in a manger – the cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes. But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes….” Really? A baby that doesn’t cry. Probably not.
“Silent Night”??? Really? Ever been in a delivery room. Not so very silent…
No… The birth of the Messiah. Just like every birth was messy. And loud. And probably complicated at times. And definitely exhausting.
But – also like every birth - filled with great expectations….
The first expectation common to parents is that once the birthing process is over, then there will be hugs and cuddles and sweet coos with mom and dad and the baby will just go to sleep and all can rest…
And you’d think that at the end of all this, the HOLY FAMILY could at least get some rest… I mean they have been through a lot…. And this is the Messiah. Surely now they can just lay their baby down – anywhere – even if it has to be a manger, which as Zach reminded us on Christmas Eve, is a food box…. And REST. Finally….
Here come the shepherds…. And the wise men…..
Being the parents of the Messiah, there is no time to rest….
But, sitting back and letting people come worship your child might not be all that bad…. One could get used to that…
But in Christianity, one doesn’t get to hang around and just “enjoy the glow”…
And that’s not in the cards for Mary and Joseph either….
Because Herod is in charge. And he is mean. I mean REALLY mean. Hitler mean.
He finds out that the Messiah has been born…. And so he goes after him… trying to trick the Wise Men into telling him where to find the baby…
But a dream warns them not to fall for his tricks and so they don’t tell Herod where he is…
And a dream warns Joseph that there is no rest for the weary….
So they must run… again…. Homeless…. Wandering….. Outcasts…… now, add Refugees to the list.
And it is life or death for the holy family – well, for every family in the area really.…. Herod is killing all the babies – every male under the age of 2 – in the area all around Bethlehem…. Willing to go to extreme lengths to preserve his reign and power….
The Christmas story – like most of the Bible’s stories is just NOT a friendly, happy, children’s story….
When Zach asked me to preach today, I of course, said yes immediately
But right after I said “yes”, Zach said, “um… it might be the “slaughter of the innocents” text…. You might wanna check on that. You can pick a different one if you want…. J
The “slaughter of the innocents”…. That’s what we call this text when we are being honest. In Children’s Sunday School, we clean it up a bit and call it “The Escape to Egypt” and sorta gloss over the reason WHY an escape is necessary….
And I really thought about picking a different text. I could pick something more, well, sweet and beautiful… something easier….
I REALLY thought about it.
Because, after all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, I knew I’d be tired. And I was right.
I don’t wanna preach on this text. It makes me mad with God and it makes me sad at the state of the world – then and now.
And the truth is that I just plain don’t really know what to do with texts like this sometimes…
My soul cries out….moans out, really… “GOoooodddddd – why!!??!!!?”
And yet this is how the church celebrates the season of Christmas. Every year, Dec. 28th is considered a Day of Remembrance for the Holy Innocents.
Just when we are patting ourselves on the back for remembering to keep “Christ in Christmas” by coming to church to sing sweet Christmas Carols and look at beautiful nativity scenes and rock ourselves to sleep as we close our eyes to the reality of the world around us….
God send messengers that say “Don’t forget the Herod in Christmas”….
My hunch is the holy family had probably seen enough of Christmas. They must have been ready for things to return to normal--whatever that is. But, alas, they would never see normal again. This baby had brought with him a new normal.
Even the Holy Family was not given the luxury of sleeping in heavenly peace for very long.
On the one hand, there's the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes...but on the other hand, there is Rachel, close by, weeping for her children.
If Joy to the World has been hard for you to sing – much less feel this Christmas season, you are in good company with Mary and Joseph and Jesus...and God.
The Gospel today reminds us that the world in which God enters is not perfect…
And the good news of the birth of Jesus does NOT magically erase all the bad news in the world….
The Good News is not that suffering has ended.
The Good News is not that we will never be sad.
The Good News is not that there is a Santa Claus-type god in the sky granting wishes to those who are good and sending coal and trouble to those who are bad….
The Good News is that the Creator of the world - The Creator of the Good and the Bad is WITH US.
Jesus enters into the messiness of our world….
Fulfilling God’s Promises….
Fulfilling is one of the “buzz words” in Matthew – it shows up 3 times just in the passage we read today.
In Mathew, God is busy – full-filling…
FILLING this world FULL of grace and peace and truth and mercy…
The text in Isaiah this morning is a communal lament….
It is a cry from the depth of a grieving community….
And we read it today and add the griefs we experience in the broken world we find ourselves living in today –
for there are still tyrants who kill to maintain their power….
There are still people who will manipulate the truth to “save face”….
There are still children who are killed way too early.
There are still parents who grieve
There are still families who must run for safety
There are relationships that are broken…
There are Countries at war…
There are still people who are Homeless…. Wandering…. Outcast…. Refugees…..
But lest we too quickly gloss over things…. All of that isn’t just what is “OUT THERE”… it is in us…
And when we let it, this story can tug at that place deep in our hearts… Causing us to look at the parts of our own personal lives that we like to gloss over…. We sing sweet beautiful songs, but under that…
maybe we are like Rachel, weeping in grief
maybe we are like the wise men—seeking and finding, but inadvertently bringing harm to so many
maybe we are like Herod--fearful of losing power and position and relentless in our desire to keep it
maybe we are like Joseph--dreaming, trying to be obedient, running from place to place
maybe we are like Mary – just following along, feeling tossed around by the circumstances of life…
But maybe – just maybe… we are like Jesus--the one who was saved ... to save….
Isaiah says…He became their savior in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old…
God doesn’t come into the world promising to fix anything. Or to grant us all our wishes. Or to eliminate evil. Or to end suffering.
God comes promising to be our savior in all our distress. Promising to be with us… God with us… Emmanuel… now and til the ends of the ages….
With us in our distress… carrying us… redeeming us… saving us.... and the world around us…. Moment by moment…. Eternally…
Christmas means that Darkness comes… but there is a Star to follow. Blessings!
Director of C.U.P.S.