Sermon: The First Sunday after Christmas (A) – 29th December 2013

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23

Sermon:              The First Sunday after Christmas Year A

The Christmas season is a continual reminder that God is with us, sharing in our joy and sorrow, moving through ordinary life and providing insights when we are in greatest need of them.

God comes to us directly, Isaiah claims, without the mediation of others.  God doesn’t need messengers to convey God’s will, although prophets are often sent to share divine wisdom and challenge.  God is with us in the here and now.

If God comes to us directly, what are the medium of divine communication?  Does God directly speak to us or provide insights, and dreams?  Does God come to us through our encounters with others?  How do we know that our experiences of the divine reflect divine direction rather than personal self-interest?  Does our perspective and life experience shape the nature of divine revelation as well as our understanding of it?

God comes to us each moment in terms of possibilities for actualization and the energy to achieve these possibilities.

God comes to us in our experiences of general and personal transformation.

We experience God through our encounters with other people.

God encourages us to share God’s possibilities with others.

All revelation can reveal as much about ourselves as they reveal about God.

The initial praise to God is not only about mercy in times past, but is the statement of faith that provides a foundation for asking God’s continuing mercy in the present.  These verses invite us to praise God for divine mercy shown in the birth of Jesus in the past; but they are not only about the past; they also invite Christians to pray for God’s mercy made obvious through God’s action in the life and ministry of Jesus and continuing today.  This is a picture of a God intimately and feelingly related to God’s creation; it is in direct opposition to the idea of a God who feels no emotion even though divine actions may appear compassionate to human recipients.

God’s salvation is manifested in “no messenger or angel but his presence”, stresses God’s real and personal involvement in saving action.  The saving significance of Jesus is not simply in the message he proclaimed or the divinity he revealed; the saving significance of Jesus is in the active presence of God in and through him, a presence into which he invites the faithful to come be present to God themselves.  What is unique about the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus is the intensity, intimacy, and deliberate manner in which Jesus received and actualized in his human occasions the divine aims of God’s saving love.  Thus Isaiah’s recognition of God’s presence, in the history of salvation serves to enhance, not to diminish, the recognition of God’s saving presence in Jesus the Christ.  It encourages us to recognize God’s real presence in contemporary acts of prayer, liturgy, community and justice.  Therefore the celebration of Christmas is not only about a birth two thousand years ago; it is about God’s mercy and love made present today.

Psalm 148 reminds us that all things can praise God because God touches all things, both human and non-human.  God is present in the groaning of creation and our own yearnings.  God is revealed in the sighs too deep for words within us and the sighs of all creation.  The universe reflects a dynamic call and response at every level.  Although we have defaced creation and ourselves, we still live in an enchanted universe in which all things reveal the movements of God’s Spirit.

The Letter of Hebrews tells us that we can grow in grace and share in Christ’s divinity because Christ transformed humankind through the incarnation.  Christ saves us by becoming one of us and experiencing the world from our perspective.  God became human so we might become divine.  Christ lived through every stage of life, thus making every stage of life holy.  Christ suffers as he experiences our pain; God feels our pain and is truly the fellow sufferer who understands our experiences.  Christ invites persons to holiness.  God’s experience of our world is fundamental to divine revelation.  In sharing our lives, God lures us toward full humanity and the glory of God in human history.

The Gospel reading needs to be rated “R” for violent content.  The slaughter of the innocents is graphic in its violence, and sadly we are familiar with such images of death and destruction, whether by terrorist actions, ethnic violence, drone attacks.  Institutions, like persons, are ambiguous: they can do much good in the world, but they can also wreak violence on innocent children.  Military instruments such as drones, intended to reduce innocent suffering, become instruments that destroy families.  As we ponder the killing of toddlers in Bethlehem, we are forced to our own examination of conscience as individuals and citizens.  In what ways are we, through our own actions, the actions of churches, the actions of our lawmakers and political leaders, harming children?  How do we cope with the institutional and family sexual betrayal of our young children?

We catch a glimpse of the members of the Holy Family running for their lives.  Joseph, Jesus and Mary are political refugees, immigrants, similar to today’s legal and illegal immigrants throughout the world who depend solely on the kindness of strangers.  Their flight reminds us of our responsibility to today’s immigrants.  Regardless of their legal status, they are God’s beloved children who deserve our compassion and support.

The first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel are filled with life transforming dreams: Joseph chooses to stay with pregnant Mary as a result of an angelic message in a dream; the magi have a dream that warns them to return home without reporting to Herod; Joseph is warned to leave Bethlehem; another dream inspires Joseph to return home.

One of Matthew’s ongoing motifs throughout the Gospel is to present Jesus as a new Moses, mediating a new Covenant.  The brief episodes in this passage echo episodes in the life of Moses.  As Moses’ birth was threatened by the decree of Pharaoh that Hebrew boys should be killed, so Jesus’ birth is threatened by Herod’s murderous order.  As Moses was separated from his people and raised among Egyptians, so Jesus was separated from his people and raised in Egypt.  As Moses returned to the land of promise but did not dwell in it, so Jesus returned to Judea but did not stay there, moving instead to Nazareth in Galilee.  What is being suggested is that as God was at work in Moses, and more so is God at work in Jesus.  Jesus is the true representative of the people in mediating a new Covenant

God comes to us in many ways.  We need to take time to pause, notice and then respond to the many ways divine revelation emerges each and every day.  In this holy season we remember and celebrate that God came to us as one of us so that w can be one with God.[1]

 



[1] This sermon prepared using mater written by Bruce G Epperly and Paul S Nancarrow found at www.processandfaith.org.