The Work of Christmas

Matthew 2:1–23

Epiphany Sunday

January 4, 2015

First Christian Church

Mahtomedi, MN

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When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
To make music in the heart.

I can’t forget Christmas of 1977. I remember it for a few reasons: first, there was me trying to wake up my parents at 4AM to unwrap presents (I was unsuccessful), there was the Lionel trainset that my parents gave which I loved, seeing what looked like the Bethlehem star in the winter Michigan sky and it was spending the day with my Uncle Pablo’s three children: Juanita, Felicita and Pablito. My cousins in many ways the closest thing I had to siblings growing up. So, we had fun that day.

Howard Thurman.

I remember this also because it was the last sense of normalcy for my cousins for a long time. A few days later on January 4 of 1978 to be exact, Pablo came over to our house to speak to his sister, my Mom. It turns out that Pablo’s wife, Cherry had decided to leave Pablo and took the kids with her. Pablo returned to an empty house and a marriage that was no over.

This began a long four year saga of battles between Pablo and his ex-wife with the children caught in the middle. In August of 1982, his former wife decided to move to California and took my cousins with her. It would be a few years before Pablo could see his children again and the relationship would never be the same again. The joy of Christmas 1977 quickly ended a little over a week later with a broken marriage and family.

Today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany takes place on January 6, but we commemorate it today. It is on this day we are reminded of the visit of the Magi, the Three Kings, who visit the toddler Jesus and give him gifts of gold, frankinsense and myrrh. The first part of today’s passage, the visit of the Magi, was last week’s text, but I wanted to include with today’s text which is not as happy. Today’s texts starts with King Herod, who is a rutheless leader. He had hoped that the three kings would let him know where Jesus was, but they were warned in a dream to not return to King Herod. Knowing that he had been ignored, Herod decided that if he could not get rid of one child, one usurper, he would get rid of all the young boys of a certain age. A little more bloody than he wanted, but it would get the job done: no more pretenders to the throne.

Thankfully, God was already at work. Joseph was told in a dream to get our of dodge and head down to Egypt, which is exactly what he did to protect his son. But while Jesus was safe, we still have to deal with the innocent children who killed for no good reason.

This passage is a hard one to preach especially so close to Christmas. We’ve talked about the wonder of Christmas and the excitement of the Three Kings and then we are plunged into this ugly scene of a despot who saw no shame in killing children.

The reason we celebrate Christmas is because we celebrate the Incarnation, the word made flesh, God becoming one of us. God was up to something good, to bring about our salvation. But the arrival of God did not mean that evil would never harm us anymore. It was like that parable of the wheat and the weeds; both had to grow together until the harvest or the end of time. This is why Christ came to the world; to redeem a creation where a man feels free to slaughter innocents. Christ came to show another way, not to eradicate evil, at least not yet.

I’ve been wondering what this text had to say to us. Should this text make us act any differently? What does it mean for the church?

Later this month, we will be having our book club. The book that we will talk about this time around is called The Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight. McKnight is a well known evangelical theologian and he argues that when we see the word “kingdom of God” in the Bible, it is not just referring to some place in the hereafter, but it is talking about the one place where the world can see a world God is king: the local church. It is this place here where people can see God’s kingdom in action.

In the midst of a world where the King Herods rule, we are to show another way: God’s way. The church can’t get rid of evil; but we can show what God really wants for creation.

If there is anything I want to you all to remember in 2015 it’s this: even as small as we are, we are the church, we are a sign of God’s kingdom here on earth to show that God has plan.

There has been much talk in the news lately about the death of a young teenager, who called herself Leelah. She was a transgendered teen, meaning she was born male, but identified as female. In what is all too common a story, Leelah killed herself a few days after Christmas. Now, I’m not here to talk about being transgendered. What I do want to talk about is simply this: what if a church, any church could have been a place where this young person and the parents who found it hard to come to terms to have a space where they could find love during this hard and difficult time? Regardless of how people feel about the issue, this is one of those times when the church needs to be a place of love to a family in a world where both the child and the parents are shunned.

I began this sermon with a short poem. The words are from Howard Thurman, an African American theologian. I love it because it is so practical. The decorations are down, the gifts have been opened, now it is time to engage in the work of Christmas. We are to do what God did, announcing the coming of God’s kingdom, of God coming and doing something new.

Epiphany is a time when Christ is made manifest in creation. How will our church live out Epiphany, to show God manifest in this little church on the hill?

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
To make music in the heart.

Merry Christmas. Now get to work. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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