Sermon: First Sunday of Christmas

December 29, 2013
(Guest Preacher, Kirsten Curtis)

What did we hear from the angels in Luke’s story last week? “Do not be afraid…” This the angels proclaimed to the shepherds as they announced the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The birth we just celebrated a few days ago on Christmas when we heard the story of Jesus birth in the Gospel of Luke. The angels upon bringing the Good News of Jesus’ birth said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid,” for the announcement came from a multitude of angels.  Rejoicing in the birth of the Christ child, the shepherds, along with the Magi, seek to find this king, the Christ child, to worship him. Ironically, though, not all were excited that a new king had arrived and fear took hold of them. Herod, for one, did not hear the angel’s message, and when he heard from the Magi about the birth of Jesus (v.3) he was frightened, along with all Jerusalem. His fear prompted him to try to trick the Magi into returning to him with the news of Jesus’ location. The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. This sets up an ugly scene, which we read in today’s text – upon hearing that he had been tricked himself, Herod took drastic measures because of his fear, murdering thousands of innocent children in and around Bethlehem to ensure that he would remain king he thought.

Herod feared that his crown would be stolen from him, and that the arrival of this new king meant that his power would soon come to an end. Because of this, Herod responded with an unthinkable, unspeakable, untenable response. It is one of those passages in scripture that one wants to avoid, ignore, skim over – but it cannot be ignored. It is one of those passages that just hits you in the gut. Herod orders the massacre of innocent children out of fear, greed, desire for power and control. It seems so barbaric, and yet, we see signs of this occurring over and over throughout history and even today. While completing a course at WTS titled American Genocide this fall, this was more than apparent. Out of fear, greed, desire for power and control, 19 million Native Americans were murdered, 19 million over the course of a couple hundred years at the onset of our country. It proved to spark this response from one participant in a poem at the conclusion of the semester:

I love you God
but I am so mad
at this human race
that at times goes plain mad.
What were they thinking?
It’s obvious they were not!
Blinded by what they had not.
Wretched sin took hold
Did not let go!
It has a tight grip.
Death takes its toll.
Millions and millions lost their lives
For money
For land
For power and control
So one could feel superior
And force the other to feel low
What were they thinking?
It’s obvious they were not!
Blinded by what they had not.
What do we do now?
We tell their story.
The first Americans were here before you and me
They were robbed of their lives, their land, and their trees.
They were forced off their land, sequestered and shamed,
Dehumanized, Demonized, Degraded, Demeaned
Viewed through the lens of total depravity.
What were they thinking?
It’s obvious they were not!
Blinded by what they had not.
God help me please
To tell others
To promote justice and peace
No more covers
Exposing it all
For all to see
For it needs to be known
Before we can grow
And begin to become whole.
Only you God can help
Help us go forth
Help us and guide us
Like your light in the North.

This poem resonates with that which Herod did, an atrocity unimaginable, witnessed again in history in the lives of the First Americans, and continues today as we recap some of this year’s top stories as told in New York Times 2013: The Year in Pictures.

A 10-year-old boy named Issa lugs a mortar shell in a weapons factory run by the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo.

PORT SAID, EGYPT0 – 1/28/2013 – Egyptians mourned the death of Mohammed Yousra, 27, who was one of seven antigovernment protesters killed in clashes with the police.

BOSTON04/15/2013An injured woman was helped at the scene of the first of two explosions at the Boston Marathon.

DAMASCUS, SYRIA – 08/21/2013 – Hundreds of Syrians were killed in a chemical weapons attack

Yes, it is important that today’s text is read in its entirety, not skipping over that which the man Herod did to those innocent children, because Herod’s attempt to control his world was unsuccessful, for he is just a man, a broken, sinful man. God remains able to continue to display God’s divine majesty, as seen most evidently in the birth of God’s son Jesus Christ. Knowing that God’s in-breaking into our world, entering our story, knowing of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection speaks of God Emmanuel—God with us—in spite of ourselves-our own broken, human nature.

One theologian puts it this way. “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 has joined God’s own 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 hope with others.” (David Lose, 12/26/13)

And as the poem concludes in the final verse, “Only you God can help us go forth—help us and guide us—like your light in the North.” That light shone forth as a star, guiding the Magi to locate the Christ child. Helping and guiding, God sends them forth, speaking to them in today’s text through their dreams—sending them home along a different route. Helping and guiding, God sends forth Joseph, speaking to him in today’s text through his dreams, fleeing in the night, taking Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt—to safety, out of the reach of Herod. And again, speaking through his dreams, God calls Joseph back to Israel, to settle in Nazareth. This gives us hope. God is with us, as witnessed through today’s text with Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, and God is with us, as witnessed through today’s text with the Magi guiding them home along a different path.

Knowing that since entering our world, our story, God has entered into dark places, places of danger, fleeing from a mad man who sought to rule with violence. God with us—in all that life encompasses, the dark , the dangerous, the dirty – God with us—Emmanuel—the light that shines through the darkness, the light that no darkness can overcome. God with us—God who so loved the world that he gave to the world God’s only Son so that all who believe may have eternal life.

Come Emmanuel—God with us, as witnessed today through The NY times 2013: The Year in Pictures.

An Afghan girl reads a book in front of her class in Parwan Province. She and her female classmates are the true change in 2013, the future. It’s not made up of AK-47s and tank shells, razor wire or nerve gas — but girls, suffused with hunger and hope, drinking their fill from the bottomless well of words and, perhaps, wisdom.

NEAR MAGADI, KENYA – 03/04/2013 – Masai voters waited to cast their ballots in a crucial, anxiously awaited presidential and parliamentary election.

LONDON – 10/20/2013 – Malala Yousafzai, 16, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by Taliban fighters, signed a copy of her memoir, “I Am Malala,” before an event at the Southbank Center.

SAMAR ISLAND, THE PHILIPPINES – 11/18/2013 – After Typhoon Haiyan, people found refuge at Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Basey.

BROOKLYN – 12/05/2013 – The 2013 graduating class of New York City firefighters, the most diverse in the city’s history, at the Christian Cultural Center.

JOHANNESBURG – 12/08/2013 – Young parishioners offered prayers for Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, during a Mass at the Regina Mundi Roman Catholic church. Mr. Mandela, who died at age 95, spent 27 years in prison before becoming the country’s first black president in 1994.

As evident in the captions for these photos, God with us – now and forever, hope lies in God’s Son Jesus Christ, our Savior – born in a manger, dying on a cross, so that you and I live. Knowing this, in spite of the fact that you and I live in a sinful world full of violence and brokenness God with us—glimpses of hope continue to shine forth, knowing that Christ’s light overcomes the darkness. So hear again anew the message the angel shared with those shepherds on that starry night over 2000 years ago, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:1, ESV)

~Kirsten Curtis

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