“Hassles”: A sermon by Bob Keller


A sermon preached by Bob Keller on December 30, 2007 based on Matthew 2: 13 – 23.

I’d like to start this morning by relating this imaginary correspondence between Martha Stewart and the late Erma Bombeck:

Hi Erma,
This perfectly delightful note is being sent on paper I made myself to tell you what I have been up to. Since it snowed last night, I got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a glue gun. I hand painted it in gold leaf, got out my loom, and made a blanket in peaches and mauves. Now it’s time to start making the place mats and napkins for my 20 breakfast guests. I’m serving the old standard Stewart 12-course breakfast, but I didn’t have time to make the tables and chairs this morning, so I used the ones I already had. I did take time to make the dishes to use for breakfast from Hungarian clay, which you can get at almost any Hungarian craft store.

Well, I must run. I need to finish the buttonholes on the dress I’m wearing for breakfast. I’ll get out the sled and drive this note to the post office as soon as the glue dries on the envelope I’ll be making.
Martha Stewart

Response from Erma Bombeck:

Dear Martha,
I’m writing this on the back of an old shopping list, pay no attention to the coffee and jelly stains. I’m 20 minutes late getting my daughter up for school, packing a lunch with one hand, on the phone with the dog pound, seems old Ruff needs bailing out, again. Burnt my arm on the curling iron when I was trying to make those cute curly fries. Still can’t find the scissors to cut out some snowflakes, tried using an old disposable razor…trashed the tablecloth. Tried that cranberry thing, but the frozen cranberries mushed up after I defrosted them in the microwave. Oh, and don’t use Fruity Pebbles as a substitute in that Rice Krispie snowball recipe, unless you happen to like a disgusting shade of green! The smoke alarm is going off, talk to ya later.
Love, Erma

Now wouldn’t we all like to have the time and energy, not to mention the talent, for the Martha Stewart Christmas!

But all of the waiting and anticipation, not to mention all of the “noise” of the holiday somehow gets in the way and Christmas sneaks up on us and it’s gone before we realize it was even here!

I’ll bet if you check the ads in today’s paper, you’ll see that Target and Kmart and Walmart and Sears all have ads for storage boxes. Those ads are subtly telling us that it’s over. It’s time to put it all away. They’re telling us that it’s time to once again “get organized.” To tidy up our lives and get back to “normal.”

In a way, they’re telling us that Christmas is over. If you missed it, too bad, but we’ll help you be organized for next year. And what happens then? Same thing as this year!
Christmas is filled with joy, and in this 21st century, it’s filled with hassles and the need to be organized.

But what of that first Christmas? How organized was it? Were there any hassles? Certainly this was the fulfillment of the prophecies, but was that fulfillment even noticed as the events unfolded? Probably not, but the hassles could hardly go unnoticed.

When Pastor Jeff asks me to fill in for him, he usually gives me a few weeks notice and provides the scripture lessons for that day. I use that time to read the scriptures and then I check every commentary I can find to help me understand what I’ve read. The common thread in all of the commentaries on the passage that David read for us this morning is that this is really part of the Christmas story.

Probably, many of you are like me and associate the Christmas story with the passage from Luke’s gospel- the story where the angel choirs sing and the shepherds are amazed and fall down to worship the newborn king amid peace on earth. Now we come to Matthew’s account and we find hassles. Not only hassles, but downright barbarism in the Slaying of the Innocents.

Let’s take a look at Joseph, a guy who does an admirable job at being the stepfather of God’s son. Did Joseph have hassles?

First, he’s got a new wife and she’s pregnant already. But Joseph is an obedient man and he listens to God when he’s told in a dream to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife because the child she carries is of the Holy Spirit. God goes on to tell Joseph that he should name the baby Jesus because he will save His people from their sin.

Did God get Joseph out of his hassle? Did God allow Joseph a “do over?” No, but He was with Joseph and told him why this was happening. So Joseph kept Mary as his wife and they went to Bethlehem because of this tax thing – now here’s another hassle, where do I get the money to pay this unexpected tax? I’ve got a new wife and a baby on the way. Not only do I have to pay a new tax, I’ve got to travel to Bethlehem for the privilege of paying it! But the baby was born. From there the familiar story from Luke’s gospel traditionally takes over until we need the story of the visit of the wise men to fill some time in our documentary.

So we come to Matthew’s account of Christ’s birth. We know from Luke’s account that the shepherds arrived fairly soon after Jesus was born. But we don’t know how long it took the magi to get to Bethlehem. Their journey from the East could have taken several days or as long as nearly two years.

When the magi got to Jerusalem, their first stop was to see Herod, the king. Surely he would know where this new king was to be found. Well, the birth of this new king was news to Herod and it’s safe to assume that Herod was none too pleased to hear of any competition. After all, there can only be one king.

So here’s a hassle for the magi. They’re in a strange land. They’re under orders from the king to find this baby and report his whereabouts to Herod. They find the child, recognize him as the one they were told about. They present their gifts and they make a decision to not go back to Herod, but to leave the area by another way. Now think about that for a moment. They literally took their lives in their hands. Three magi traveling together was probably a sight out of the ordinary. If Herod had found the baby and saw the gifts he would have known that the gifts likely came from people like the visiting magi. Surely these three men risked their lives in fleeing to protect the baby.

Joseph, Matthew tells us, had another dream. This time he’s told to get up and take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Here’s another hassle for Joseph. Now remember, Joseph probably wasn’t the youngest player on the team. All this traveling was no fun for an older man. I checked to find out how far away Egypt is from Bethlehem – it’s 300 miles! Mary wasn’t a “soccer mom” so they didn’t get in the Dodge Caravan to make the journey and neither Greyhound buses nor Amtrak were available. They walked, and 300 miles is like walking from here to Pittsburgh! But again, the angel of the Lord explained why – because Herod was going to seek out the child to kill him. Joseph didn’t ask how he was to get there. He didn’t ask where he would live once he got there. Remember, the new family had the gifts from the magi that they likely used to finance their journey. Joseph simply said, “Well, OK then. I’ve got the Son of God here – I can’t let Herod kill him.”

When the magi didn’t come back to Herod, he realized that he had been “punk’d.” Herod believed the prophecies of a king being born in Bethlehem, but he had no idea where he was. So he ordered all of the male babies under two years of age, in and around Bethlehem, be killed. Now, talk about your hassles! Imagine being a parent in those days. Now imagine the soldiers marching up your street and coming into your house and searching until they find your baby boy. Now imagine those soldiers taking the boy and running a spear through him. This is part of the Christmas story? It fulfills the prophecy found in Jeremiah

Often, people will ask if Jesus was a real person. Well, he’s referenced alongside Herod who most certainly was real. Evidence of Herod’s reign abounds in ancient, non-biblical, writings as well as in archeological finds. Quite frankly, there’s no dispute that Herod lived, was quite an architect, and was an SOB.

Let’s take a little closer look at Herod. Caesar Augustus was quoted as saying that it would be better to be King Herod’s pig than to be his son. Pigs were protected by law … Herod’s family members were not. King Herod had already killed two of his own sons … he had them strangled. He also killed one of his 10 wives … his favorite wife … because he thought that she had been unfaithful to him (she wasn’t!). He also killed her grandfather, and her 80-year-old uncle, who had once saved Herod’s life. He also killed his own uncle and his mother-in-law. He killed his 18-year-old brother-in-law, because the Jews liked him better than they liked Herod. What are a few babies in Bethlehem to King Herod!

But the new family was safe in Egypt.

When Herod dies, Joseph has another dream. This time he’s told to take the boy and his mother and to go back to Israel. We don’t know the exact timeline here, but Joseph is likely 10 years older than when he went to Egypt. Is this another hassle for Joseph? It is – but it’s another fulfillment of prophevy – Israel’s savior will come out of Egypt and it reminds us that God’s people, Israel, had safely come out of Egypt so many years before.
Let me ask you – how many times have you moved in your lifetime? Whether one time or many, it’s a hassle. Connie and I have moved four times. And we always get so well organized! In fact we are so well organized that we still have “stuff” in boxes that we packed for our first move some 33 years ago. But we tend to define ourselves by our “stuff”, don’t we?

It’s said that ‘only in America do we fill our garages with stuff and park a $30,000 car in the driveway!’ No such luxury for Joseph and Mary. How much stuff can you carry when you’re walking 300 miles and maybe have only a donkey to share your load.

Herod’s son, Archelaus, was in charge now. From historical accounts, Archelaus made his father look like Little Bo Peep. To make his power known, after he took over from his father, Archelaus had 3,000 Jews killed in the temple on Passover.

Joseph, in another dream, is warned of this new tyrant and bypasses Judea and takes his wife and son to Nazareth. Nazareth is not the kindest place for Jews in that day. It’s a crossroads city and the northern garrison for the Romans. It’s mostly inhabited by gentiles and the few Jews that lived there were often said to be in cahoots with the enemy, the Romans. But another prophecy is fulfilled – HE (Jesus) shall be called a Nazarene. The Son of God was to grow up among the Gentiles.

In these few short verses, Matthew completes the Christmas story. He balances fulfillment of prophecy with the political treachery and barbarism of the day. Matthew reveals the hassles of the birth of the Son of God. Since we, in our sin, are in no shape to go to be with God, He sent his Son to live among us. He shares our hassles and our pain as well as our triumphs and joy.

This birth was no easy feat. In fact, how many more hassles could have been thrown into the plot here? The possibility of an unwed mother, the taxes, the long journeys, the threat of death, the treachery of a despot, the even greater treachery of the despot’s son – even the murder of untold numbers of innocent children.
But we also have the fulfillment of prophecy. Amid the hassles and the horrific slaughter, is a tale that tells us that God was, and still is, in charge.

God makes a promise to all of us: He promises His presence.

In Psalm 34 we are told that: The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.

Many prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Even more with the slaughter of the Innocents, the flight to – and return from – Egypt as well as the move to Nazareth.

The story could have ended there, but Jesus didn’t die in Bethlehem. The baby in the manger grew up to be the man on the Cross. And that cross, that EMPTY cross, is what the Christmas story is all about. It’s about the hassles and it’s about hope. The hope that was born in Bethlehem. The light in the world that no darkness can overcome. The Savior that came to be with us, to share in our lives, not just at Christmas and Easter, or at weddings and baptisms, but ALL of the time. It’s about the Savior that takes our sins and allows us that “do-over” that we so desperately need. It’s about hope for today, tomorrow and for all eternity.

Listen to the words of Christina Rosetti
That night when shepherds heard the song of the angelic host caroling near,
A deaf man turns in slumber’s spell, and dreamed that he could hear.
That night when in the cattle stall slept mother and child in humble fold,
A cripple turned his twisted limbs and dreamed that he was whole.
That night when o’er the new born babe a tender mother rose to lean,
A loathsome leper smiled in sleep and dreamed that he was clean.
That night when to the mother’s breast the little King held secure,
A harlot slept a happy sleep and dreamed that she was pure.
That night when in the manger lay the Holy One Who came to save,
A man turned in the sleep of death, and dreamed their was no grave.
What shall be our gift to Him? What shall I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I’d give Him a lamb,
If I were a wise man I’d do my part.
What shall I give Him? I know…I’ll give Him my heart.

You’ve heard the expression – Today is the first day of the rest of your life. I’d like to turn that just a bit and state “Today is the last day of your life, so far.” What will you do with it? Will you check out the ads for storage crates, boxes and bins? And will you put Christmas away all organized for another year? It’s OK if you do, but consider leaving out that thing called “the hope of Christmas.”

Will you take that message of Christmas with you and live it? Not just the message of peace on earth and angel choirs, but the message of real hope that Christmas brings to all those that will hear it. God gave us the hope of His Son living among us, will you give Him your heart?

Please pray with me:

Father, what can we say? You gave us that chance for a “do-over” when you sent your Son to live and dwell among us so that He could feel what we feel. Yet He wasn’t just a man, He was Immanuel – God with us.

Our prayer is that we would know his presence with us, each day of the year, that we would know the hope that your Son brought to us and that it would dwell forever in our hearts. Amen