A sermon given by Bob Keller on December 26th, 2010 based upon Matthew 2: 13 -23
Christmas is a time when we think of journeys. I met Connie nearly 41 years ago, in January of 1970 and we started dating soon thereafter. We were both in high school. I proposed to her in 1973 and we were married a year later in 1974.
Anticipating becoming a married man and starting a family, I decided to go to college through a summer semester so I could graduate early and get on with our new life together. While in college, I worked as a disc jockey at a local radio station in a town just outside of Pittsburgh, PA. (Go Steelers!) I graduated from college in January of 1974.
The general manager of the radio station where I worked, Mr. Carl Marcocci, bought his own station in Clearwater, FL, around the same time. Mr. Marcocci asked me to move to Florida to become program director of his new station. I jumped at the chance! It was quite a career advancement, not to mention an opportunity to take my new wife to a new place as we started our life journey together.
This all happened in January and our wedding was planned for June of that year. We just knew we couldn’t be apart that long so we advanced the wedding date to March. I moved to Florida and left my wife and mother-in-law-to-be to plan our wedding. They planned all right! Somehow, I even wore a powder blue tuxedo! I drove Connie’s car, the one that would become our car, to Florida. I found a great apartment to rent and started to buy some furniture. Remember, too, that this was the height of the oil embargo. My apartment was just down the block from a gas station that we had a “trade-out” with. The radio station gave the gas station advertising for the mechanics’ bays and he made sure the radio stations’ employees got gas. Everything was looking good.
I came back from Florida three days before our wedding — enough time to secure our marriage license. The day before our wedding, Mr. Marcocci asked me to lunch. I assumed it was going to be a good luck in your marriage lunch. Instead, due to a staff shakeup, I was transferred back to Pittsburgh.
Now here we are, a day before our wedding. And everything is turned upside down! Our car, and a small amount of furniture, is in Florida in an apartment that I just signed a lease on. We have no place to live in Pittsburgh, but that’s where my job is and Connie has resigned from her job in anticipation of moving to Florida. But when Mr. Marcocci said, you’re moving, not many would argue with him. We ditched Florida and set our move back to Pittsburgh with no place to live, no furniture, our car a thousand miles away and no job for Connie.
I related that story to remind us that all of us have journeys to make, whether literally or figuratively, as we go through life. Those journeys often have twists and turns that we don’t even realize until we look back on them.
Augustus Caesar sent Joseph and his very pregnant wife, Mary, on a journey when he issued the taxation decree. Joseph didn’t question the orders. He left his home and belongings behind, loaded up what he could, and went to Bethlehem where Mary delivered the baby Jesus. We know the confirmation that Joseph and Mary received that their child must really be something special. First the shepherds came and told them of the wonderful told to them about their child. Others soon followed and eventually even the Magi came and offered lavish gifts to them for their baby. Things must have been looking good for this new family!
Everyone was happy at the first Christmas: the prophecies were, after all, fulfilled.
But there’s a dark side to the Christmas story and it’s found in the passage that David read for us this morning. The very model for Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Grinch was all rolled up in one: King Herod.
Herod got really ticked that another could be considered the King. A rival — how dare he! Those ungrateful people. Look! I built a new temple — not just a temple, but a temple twice as big as the old one. And don’t they remember when there was a famine a few years back, wasn’t it me that sold my gold to buy them food? Herod was really full of himself and demanded unswerving allegiance.
When the visiting wisemen betrayed him and he didn’t know where this new king was, he figured a way out. Get rid of all of the male babies less than two years old and I’m rid of my competition.
An angel told Joseph about Herod’s plan and, despite that Joseph had set his family up somewhere in Bethlehem, (remember, the Magi visited the family in a house) Joseph may have even set up a small carpentry shop by this time) Joseph didn’t argue. In fact, the scriptures don’t have record of Joseph ever saying anything.
Joseph was told to take his wife and son and go to Egypt. He got up in the middle of the night and started his journey. We don’t know exactly where in Egypt they went, but it was a journey of some 300 – 400 miles. That’s like walking from here to Cleveland! When Joseph got word that it was safe to return, he did so and settled in Nazareth. We don’t hear anything more of Joseph.
But Joseph, and his listening to God’s direction, plays an integral role in the Christmas story. Joseph’s obedience keeps the Christ child safe from harm. And make no mistake, since Jesus, the son of God, was in human form, he could have been harmed. Had Joseph argued, questioned or delayed his response, the story could have played out quite differently.
But Herod also plays an integral part in the Christmas story. It’s a part that is never in any of the pageants. Why? Perhaps because Herod serves as a reminder of the darkness that’s always present. He serves to remind us that happiness doesn’t last and that there will always be those, sometimes even ourselves, that will say, “This is mine, and I’m the king, to hell with you.”
Recognizing that we are like that is not a pleasant thought at Christmas. So we push it aside. We ignore that part. But to do so is to lose sight of the fact that the Christ child is the light of the world that comes to dispel the darkness.
Do this with me: let out a big sigh. That’s a physical representation of what we go through after Christmas. Some of those were sighs of contentment while others, be honest here, were likely sighs of relief. All of the hustle of getting ready for Christmas is over. The shopping was done, the baking completed, even all of the relatives with their quirks, were accommodated, weren’t they. Now what?
We went through it all with anticipation, an ever-growing anticipation of the “big day.” Many times that day meets our expectations, sometimes it doesn’t. But what of the days after Christmas?
During the run-up to Christmas, we’re thinking of the joy of the season. The happiness that will come to those we love as well as to ourselves. And we think that maybe, just maybe, peace on earth and goodwill toward all mankind is a possibility. Maybe you’ve seen it, or maybe you’ve done it yourself, but how about those drivers that let someone in to a busy line of traffic. See it any other time of the year? Not as likely!
It’s the spiritual essence of Christmas that takes hold. That baby born 2,000 years ago grew up to tell us to care for, give to, and love one another. All of the decorations, the smells, the food and the music of the season serve as reminders of that spiritual oneness that we feel.
The cold, dark days of winter still have to be conquered and doubt in our fellow man, as well as in ourselves, creeps back in to our lives. We know that we’ll face disappointment, despair and grief. Life becomes too hard again and we get wrapped up in ourselves, just like Herod, and we allow the light to dim. We sense the dissonance between the reality of the world and the world that can and should be.
We know the reality of God’s kingdom, yet every day we make compromises between those ideals and the world we live in and it becomes spiritually exhausting.
I encourage you today to make a commitment to make the journey alongside Joseph and Mary and the baby in an effort to hold on to Christmas. Every year we remind ourselves of the possibility of a new awakening, a new spirituality that will make the world a better place. That spiritual awakening is there for each of us every day if we hold on to Christmas.
When it gets tough going, remember it was in the humblest of circumstances that the baby that God sent to save the world was born. Jesus embodied the kind of love that we can all aspire to. It’s the kind of love that God has for us and the kind that we should have for ourselves and for our brothers. It’s a love that’s possible if we hold on to Christmas.
Please pray with me:
Heavenly Father, thank you so much for the wonderful gift that you gave us. You provided the love that makes it possible for the light to overcome the darkness if we keep the lamp lit. Help us as we go through our lives to be mindful, always, of that love and that it will always be there for us. And thank you for being so patient and understanding with us as we attempt to hold on to Christmas.