Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Brighter the Light...The darker the night? Mathew 2:13-23

        Here we are in the Midst of Christmas and it seems to be all love and light. We have had bon fires, and sweets and carol sings and Gift exchanges and
        we have retold and told again the wonderful story of the Birth of our savior … (sigh) it is all so wonderful.
        Do we even notice that the whole story involves intrigue and suspicion besides awe and wonder? I mean we have Mary, who is engaged to Joseph turns out
        to be pregnant in Mathew’s version, and he decides to divorce her quietly but an angel appears in a dream telling to him not to fear but Marry Mary. In
        Marks gospel there is no mention of the Birth of Christ it jumps right into the ministry of John.
        Luke’s Gospel start with the Angel to Zachariah foretelling of Johns birth, Zachariah asks a legitimate question …How is this Possible , he gets struck
        dumb! Then Gabriel heads of to Nazareth and visits Mary after Mary hears that she will be pregnant she rushes of to see her cousin then when she gets
        home Joseph and her must leave for Jerusalem because of a census here she and Joseph are married and there is no speaking of Josephs doubt. But this is
        where she has a simple Birth but out in the fields angels appear to shepherds terrifying them. Luke is also very concerned with Jesus fulfilling the
        law and so he speaks of the naming on the 8th day along with the circumcision and then, forty days after the birth, Joseph and Mary go to
        the temple for a purification ritual.
        John’s gospel offers a sacred poem. In the beginning was the word…in the word was life and that life was humanities light-
        A light that shines in the darkness, A light that the darkness has never overtaken.
        It is within that darkness that today’s tale is observed. Most people read this and the visions in the mind are one of horror, fear and massacre,
        something that we are all too familiar with these days.
        We live in dark days too often we see Images of children leaving their school with hands over their head weeping and searching for their parents
        because there has just been a shooting at the school. In researching school shootings there were 20 different school shootings in just a ten year
        period…between 1900 and 1910 it has been on an increase ever since culminating in 19 this year alone.
        Bret younger relays a sermon in ministry matters, an online magazine and resource; I want to use part of his personal story and commentary here. I will
        relay this in his words in the first person. His story goes like this; “Twenty-seven Christmases ago I was the new pastor of a Baptist church in
        Indiana. I decided we would have a Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion service—the first ever. I wanted everything to be perfect. It almost was. Snow
        fell that afternoon. A junior in high school, Melody, played “What Child Is This” on the flute. Three generations—a grandmother, her daughter, and
        granddaughter—lit the Advent candles. We sang the carols “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Away in a Manger,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” We read the
story—Mary, Joseph, the baby, and the manger. I remember thinking: This is a Hallmark card of a worship service.        This is as picture-perfect a Christmas moment as any church has ever known.
        That’s when Danny’s beeper went off. Danny was a member of the volunteer fire department. When his beeper sounded—as it often did— Danny ran out of the
        sanctuary. We had gotten used to it, but it was still disconcerting. Then we started singing “Silent Night.” As we got to “Wondrous Star, lend thy
        light,” Danny ran back in and shouted that church member Bob’s mother’s house was on fire. Bob’s family ran after Danny. Danny’s wife got up and left.
        Everyone had to choose between listening to the preacher’s sermon or slipping out one by one and going to a big fire. By the time I got Mary and Joseph
        to Bethlehem, the crowd— and I use that term loosely—was made up of those who were waiting for a ride home and those who had fallen asleep. That’s not
        how Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion services are supposed to turn out. Tragedies should wait until January, because they don’t fit our ideas about
        That’s why King Herod doesn’t fit the Christmas story. The horrifying sequence of events in Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t feel like it belongs in the
        Christmas story. The most difficult part to cast in the Christmas pageant is King Herod. Walmart sells a variety of plastic Nativity scenes for the
        yard, but there are no glow-in-the-dark King Herods. No Christmas card has this verse from Matthew on the front: “A voice was heard in Ramah, / wailing
        and loud lamentation” (Matthew 2:18). This part of the story may not seem to fit, but we need to hear it. Like a lot of stories, we have to hear the
whole story or we get the story wrong.        [1]
        Yes we have wonderful Christmas stories filled with magic, wonder and awe. We have the story of a wonderful life in which a whole town comes together
in response to all one man did just because he lived. We see what magic can happen when one puts a little faith in a Macy’s Santa in miracle on 34        th
        street. We have the beloved tale of the Miser scrooge who doesn’t fit Christmas at all and thus must be transformed in time for Christmas so we can all
        Yet all these stories and many more also reflect a dark part of society. They reveal the hatred, despair, loneliness and pain that can linger, even if
        only in the background at Christmas time. Sobering thoughts as we are in the holiday season...It is important to remember that not everyone is
        surrounded by large wonderful families.
        Some people have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness. Some are remembering the loved ones who are not with us
        especially those who lost loved ones this year the first Christmas can be the hardest.. And many people have no one to spend these times with and are
        besieged by loneliness.
        So we take time to give a little extra food or toys to the drives. We make scarves and collect socks. Why does it seem more pertinent at this time of
        year than any other? Maybe it is because we are keener…more aware of what lies around us at this time of year. Christ, the light of the world, has come
        to dwell among us. We Light candles; put up brightly decorated trees and in the midst of all that…maybe because of all that the darkness seems a bit
        darker. You see light serves no purpose if it wasn’t for the dark.
        Interesting side note here; it is actually believed that Herod never did order the execution of the innocent. Mathew uses the story, probably based
        upon Herod’s execution of his own Children, to move the holy family from Jerusalem to Egypt. He uses the story to mirror “those of the Pharaoh who
        oppressed the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 1:15-22). In both stories, innocent children die, but the designs of the tyrant are foiled by the
preservation of the one destined to be the instrument of his people’s redemption (exodus 2:1-10; Matt 2:12-18). “        [2] Mathew is looking for
        Christ to be the fulfillment of the old testament to the point that the story mirrors Israel’s journey into and back out of Egypt.
        There are no carols to the innocent Children…no hymns are sung for those gone and not forgotten. No laments for the poor, homeless, the hungry.
        Actually that is not true one of the most beautiful hymns ever written is a lament for the children.
        Actually that’s not true; the Coventry carol is a lament for the children
        Let us listen to the Lyrics;
        “O sisters too, how may we do for to preserve this day?
        The poor youngling for whom we sing
        Herod the King in his raging , charged he hath this day
        His men of might, in his own sight, all young children to slay!
        Then woe is me, poor child for thee, and ever mourns and say,
For thy parting nor say or sing by by lully lullay.”        [3]
        It is such a beautiful carol that is often heard as a lullaby but in a reality it is a lament for the children who passed as a result of Herod’s rage.
        There are many such songs and stories such as the little match girl, the Christmas shoes or one of my favorites is the Ballad of the Harp weaver
        written by Edna St. Vincent Millay as performed by the late Johnny Cash. If you get a chance look it up. He performs it so well.
        So why do we have these sad songs, heart retching stories not all with happy endings at Christmas?
        Brett Younger goes on to remind us; “Every true story admits that even in the midst of blinking decorations and flickering candles, darkness threatens
        the light. Ignoring the darkness is ignoring reality. We leave King Herod out of the Christmas story because we think we’re supposed to keep the
hardships of the real world away from Christmas. Matthew says that Christmas came in the days of King Herod.”        [4]
        You see I think we forget no matter how much pain, hunger, and suffering there is in the world you can’t stop God. You can’t stop Jesus from coming.
        God breaks in; in the middle of the darkest month, in the center of a city that is occupied by Romans, in a time of war and financial hardship God
        breaks in.
        Many times one will hear and I am sure you all heard it at one time or another when some sort of catastrophe befalls anyone at this time of year it
        seems so sad and out of place. Not that there is a good time for anything bad but when it happens at Christmas we tend to notice it more. We wish that
        if it had to happen it would happen at another time…Not at Christmas.
        Yet maybe just maybe there isn’t a better time for something bad to happen than at Christmas. You ever notice people tend to reach out more; people
        tend to give a little more. That light that is the light of Christ that is in the world always just seems to work a bit better at this time. People
        find their inner light a little easier and are a little less reticent about sharing it.
        The center of most of the sad stories is often about those who are the outcast, the hated, and the unseen. Scrooge the lender and collector of debts,
        the little match girl is a story that was often told at this time of year about the homeless girl who wants to be warm and in the warmth sees wonder
        things. Even The Ghost of Christmas present lifts his cloak to reveal the hidden part of Christmas that is always with him, those thin poor children
        named Ignorance and want
        There is a story of a man who once had fame and fortune for his music but eventually his style fell out of popularity. He became broke and living from
        hand to mouth. He had gone from playing the palaces of Europe to nothing in a very quick time.
        “In August 1742, a letter arrived written by a man many deemed crazy. Yet as Charles Jennens was one of the few friends Handel had left in the world,
        he carefully opened the envelope and read Jennens’s suggestion for a new oratorio. Over the course of the next three weeks, the composer wrote a
        musical that he was sure would never find an audience. He’d just finished it when another friend asked Handel to help with a charity concert raising
        money for a hospital serving the poorest of the poor. Handel took his new music with him and presented it at that concert for the very first time.
        Handel’s Messiah initially raised a huge sum of money for the charity and then revived the popularity of the oratorio style of music and the composer
        who wrote them better than anyone. Handel was once again on top of the world.
        There is a great lesson in the story behind this incredible piece of music. That lesson goes beyond the fragility of worldly fame. It involves God
        using people whom others have written off as having no value. Handel was one of these. Supposedly his day was past. Then there was Charles Jennens, a
        man everyone thought was, at the least, eccentric and, at the most, insane. God was able to use Jennens to rescue Handel. And then Handel was able to
employ the idea Jennens gave him to create a musical piece that generated gifts for a charity that served people just like him. Since that time,Messiah has raised more money for “the least of these” than any other music ever written.”        [5]
        It is in this time of Christmas that the least of these is used again and again to bring light to the darkness to extend joy in the middle of sorrow. A
        poor baby born in the middle of an occupied country amid centurions and swords a baby causes a shift. It is in this time when shepherds in the field,
        the uneducated, the unwashed, the outcast can come into town and proclaim the news, the Good news the news we celebrate every year and every Sunday. It
        is an unpopular poor composer then takes that news and changes it into one of the most acclaimed pieces in history… “For unto us a child is Born!”
        In the midst of pain and Darkness there is a Light that shines, a light that the darkness has never overtaken. May that be the light in your hearts
        today and let it guide you to seek out the dark spaces and bring it those who need it most. May it lighten your days and overflow to touch all those
        you care about and all those around you. Amen.



            Brett younger, let’s keep Herod in Christmas, (accessed December
            17, 2013).

            Beverly Roberts Gaventa , and David Petersen, eds., The New Interpreter's Bible One-volume Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010),

            ed, Two Coventry Corpus Christi Plays: 1. The Shearmen and Taylors' Pageant, 2d ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1957).

            Brett younger, Let's keep Herod in Christmas, (accessed December
            17, 2013).

            Ace Collins, Hellelujah Chorus,
            (accessed December 17, 2013).