Text: Matthew 2:13-23
1st Sunday after Christmas Year A
Amid our celebrations of Christ's birth on this first Sunday after Christmas we run headlong into a horrid story of genocide in the tale of King Herod's proported murder of babies in his attempt to kill baby Jesus. There is no historical evidence for the story of Herod slaughtering the innocents although there are records of plenty of other of his dastardly deeds. King Herod symbolizes Pharaoh in this story. In Exodus 1:22-2:10, Pharaoh commands that every male child of the Hebrews should be thrown into the Nile but God saved baby Moses after his mother hid him in a basket among the reeds o the bank of the river. Ironically, Pharaoh's daughter found baby Moses among the reeds and adopted him as her son so he was raised in the royal family.
Later in the Old Testament story we find a dreamer named Joseph, seventeen years old at the time, who was helping out his brothers herding flocks of sheep. Joseph brought his father bad reports on his brothers and his brothers did not appreciate that. His father loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was the child of his old age and he made him an elaborately embroidered coat. When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than them, they grew to hate him--they wouldn't even speak to him.
Then the Old Testament Joseph had a dream. In his dream he envisioned himself sitting on a throne and his brothers came and bowed down before him. After Joseph shared his dream with his brothers they hated him even more. His brothers said, "So! You're going to rule us? You're going to boss us around?" One day Joseph's brothers spotted him off in the distance. By the time he got to them they had cooked up a plot to kill him. The brothers were saying, "Here comes that dreamer. Let's kill him and throw him into one of these old cisterns; we can say that a vicious animal ate him up. We'll see what his dreams amount to." They imprisoned Joseph in a cistern and sold him to some slave traders who took him to Egypt. After many years, many trials and many dreams Joseph became the Vice-President of Egypt. Number One in the Pharaoh's Administration. And when famine had stricken the land and times were desperate God used Joseph to save his brothers and all their family from starvation. Joseph the Old Testament dreamer was part of God's salvation plot.
In a similar fashion, the Joseph in our story today was part of God's continuing salvation plot. When Herod died an angel appeared to Joseph in another dream and told him to take baby Jesus and mother Mary back to Israel. Like his namesake in the Old Testament Joseph was a dreamer. God spoke to the New Testament Joseph through his dreams. The New Testament Joseph is the father figure of the holy family with mother Mary and baby Jesus. God spoke to the this Joseph in a dream and told him King Herod had died and he should now return to Israel. But Joseph was not ready to risk the lives of his family for a dream.
God kept coming at the New Testament Joseph. God can be relentless at times. God spoke to Joseph in another dream and Joseph finally got the message. Joseph took the holy family back to Nazareth. This fulfilled yet another prophecy. God's plan was still on the move. Through thick and thin God was there. Protecting baby Jesus and the holy family. Inspiring them to move back to Israel. So back to Israel they went. Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.
Between Joseph's dreams and the babies screams lay God's plan for the salvation of humankind. God works in mysterious ways. God works in creative ways. God can use even the cries of a baby. God can use even the dreams of a grown man. There is no stopping God's plan. God is on a roll.
God knows how to manipulate powerful people to get his work done. God can even use unwitting Kings to accomplish His will. A king such as Herod. Or presidents too. No politician can block God out. No trillionaire can deter God's will. No corporate executive is exempt from being used by God to accomplish the divine plan.
No matter who tries to block His plan God will find a way to achieve human salvation. Not even Herod the Great can stop God's yearning for the salvation of all creation. If relentless love is God's way, then our way seems to the way of sorrow.
There is a popular song whose chorus goes: "Love will find a way." That is, I think, the message here. Love will find a way. God is love. And God will find a way. God will find a way to take care of God's children. God will find a way to continue the salvation story. God will find a way to keep His creation alive and growing. This text is an impressive demonstration of God's tenacious love for His human creatures and His whole creation.
Sometimes we feel discarded. Put aside like a Christmas toy that has now grown old. Tossed over in a corner of the room where no one ever comes. Grounded in the dark with the dust mites and other microbial nomads. Forgotten. Overlooked. Ignored. But God hears our cries.
The Apostle Paul puts it like this: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." (Romans 8:22) God hears the cries of all creation. For freedom. For hope. For a new creation. All creation yells to God for freedom. And God will move heaven and earth to bring salvation to God's people. God's salvation is a process, a work in progress. God is still working toward the new creation. God has not quit. God is not on vacation. God is not taking the week off to bring in the New Year. God is relentless. God will see it through to the end. God will bring salvation to the human race. God is totally committed to this goal. So go ahead and mark it down and consider it done. The baby in the manger symbolizes more than the birth of a God-man long ago. The baby in the manger symbolizes the power of God at work for the new birth of all creation.
Let us do our part to participate in God's regenerative work on behalf of all creation. This work is never easy and it is never finished. Yet we continue on working with God for the liberation of all creation. Even when the powers that be, the King Herods of this world, would try to destroy God's creation. We find in the story of Jesus' birth that God was active in preserving the infant Jesus for his future mission.
One of the great theological revelations that we inherit from our Reformed faith is that God is active in human history. We see it in the story of baby Moses being rescued from Pharaoh's campaign of murder of Hebrew boys. God saved Moses. We see God being active in human history by rescuing baby Jesus from King Herod's slaughter of the innocents.
God is active in human history. That is the meaning of Jesus' name - "Emmanuel" - "God with us." God is with us, active, vigilant, working for the salvation of humankind and all creation. Another great theme from the Reformation is that we are saved to serve. God calls each of us as individuals and all of us as a team to work with God for the salvaiton of our souls and for the restoration of all creation. It's a big job and it won't be finished in our lifetimes. It is a cycle of salvation that God continues from generation to generation.
Today, as we celebrate Christ's birth, we remember that God is active in human history and God is active in our own lives. Our role is to cooperate with God and facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit in our own life. That is what Pharaoh's daughter did when she adopted baby Moses and saved him from Pharaoh. That is what Joseph did when he took on the role of Jesus' father and protected him from King Herod. Each of us has a role to play in God's salvation history. Therefore, each of our lives is crucially important in the grand scheme of things. May we live into God's plan for our lives so we may more fully participate in God's salvation of all creation. With God's help, we will.