Monday, January 2, 2017

A Great Christmas Story!

Today’s Gospel from Matthew is a great Christmas story.
It is not as well known, nor well liked as Luke’s story.
It doesn’t have all the niceties of Luke’s story.
There is no angel chorus, no manger, no sheep, and no shepherds.
Instead it has a political tyrant out to kill Jesus.
It has Mary and Joseph fleeing Bethlehem for Egypt.
It has the killing of innocent children.
Why is this a Christmas story?

Because it is more like the world we know.
We know the story of political tyrants who set out to hurt innocent people.
We know that this world is not what it should be.

Consider the family that our congregation set out to help a couple of years ago.
They were refugees from Bhutan.
In 1985 the government of Bhutan made a law where everyone had to prove that they had been living in Bhutan before 1958.
The ruling government was trying to rid the country of immigrants that came there from Nepal 27 years earlier.
Then in 1998 more discriminatory measures were introduced, including a national ethnic dress code, an official state language.
Eventually people began fleeing Bhutan back into Nepal.
However, Nepal didn’t want them either.
They ended up in refugee camps.
Some estimates say that over 100,000- southern Bhutanese of Nepalese ethnicity have been made refugees.
I only know this story because of our relationship with that family.
It is not something that gets reported on the news.
In fact, at the end of this year what we seem to think is really important to report on is that Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and George Michael died.
And this story of our Bhutanese friends is repeated many times over around the world.
It is estimated that 33,972 people per day are forced to flee their homes became of war, civil conflict, or human rights abuses.
Millions of people whose stories we never hear and whose names we never know are without a country or home.

Now why should we care?
We should care because Jesus began his life as a refugee fleeing from tyranny.
Jesus is helpless in this story.
He can’t defend himself.
He is only a baby.
Except he has a couple of things going for him, he has God, and he has faithful parents.

And that is what makes this a great Christmas story, because Christmas is about the incarnation.
It is about God being with us even in the worse and most horrible of times.
It is about God becoming human.
It is about God becoming human so we can become children of God.
Jesus comes to show us the way.

The way is through love and faithfulness.
That is how we deal with the powers of the world, through faithfulness to God.
To care for people who are displaced, and forgotten.
That is why our congregation reached out to help a refugee family here in Concord, because we felt called by God to help.
We heard the angel whisper in our ear and tell us to love and care for others.
We follow Jesus into the unknown.

Matthew’s Christmas story is filled with unknowns.
Should Joseph take Mary as his wife after she is found to be with child?
Should the Wise men follow the star?
Should they tell Herod about what they found?
Where should Jesus and his family live?
And it is filled with surprises.
The King is a poor child, with poor parents.
Herod is out to kill this child, not worship him.
Mary’s baby is Immanuel “God with us”.
Mary and Joseph need to flee into Egypt a dangerous and unknown country.

That is how life is when we follow God.
It is full of surprises.
Not all of them good.
This week I did an overnight at the synagogue for Family Promise.
The person who was the other volunteer was telling me her life story.
It was a story not unlike others I have heard.
It had twist and turns, joys and triumphs.
And she said, “You know life is surprising.”
Yes it is.
Because we don’t know what will come next.
We don’t know what this New Year will bring?

What we do have is a Christmas story that tells us what is always true of life no matter the year.
The world is filled with sin.
It has tyrants who want to start wars, kill people, keep power, and pass unjust laws.
Into that world God has come to dwell with us.
And because of that we know that we will not be alone.
We also know to follow in his footsteps to care for the refugee, the lost and forgotten, and the ones who get screwed by those in power.
In them we find Christ, and our purpose.

I want to end today with a poem written by the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer.

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”

He wrote that while in prison waiting to be executed by the Nazis for trying to kill Hitler.
It is not just the call of Bonheoffer but all of our call to follow Jesus.
Lord we ask in this New Year for your help as we hear your call and follow you!
Be with us!

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