Here we are at the dawn of a new year!
New Years is a time of transition, a time of introspection, a time of hope.
We find ourselves as well at a time of transition
Looking back in introspection – in many ways it’s been a difficult year
Looking forward in hope – in many ways we have reason to have hope
In our readings today we hear similar voices
Isaiah describes “in all their distress”,
But then declares God’s abundant and steadfast love.
Matthew recounts King Herod being frightened & all of Jerusalem with him!
But then proclaims overwhelming joy, and God’s protection.
Joseph, Mary & Jesus faced an unsure time of transition, fleeing to Egypt,
But God provides for their needs; first to Bethlehem, then to Egypt.
The New Year is traditionally a time of making an account of what has been.
Have you been watching or reading all the lists of the year’s highlights?
2016 has been a rollercoaster year for many, full of highs & lows.
What are some of your most prominent highlights from this year?
Our readings this morning make similar reckonings of what has been.
Isaiah recounts the gracious deeds & praiseworthy acts of the Lord.
Matthew recounts prophecies fulfilled & unexpected provision arriving
And what an odd provision that is, isn’t it?
Imagine showing up to a baby shower with frankincense & myrrh!
The gold, we understand, right? But funeral spices?
That’s not just weird, it’s downright disturbing.
In hindsight, we kind of get it, but imagine Mary’s reaction
As we take an account there’s a trap that can suck us in …
That trap is to focus on counting our struggles while overlooking our gifts
This narrative in the Gospel of Matthew can be told with a much darker lens
Forced to travel
Forced out by a lack of space
Forced to deliver a baby in a town that is not your own
Forced to deliver a baby in the lowliest of environments
Forced to flee in fear out of even that strange town
Forced to flee to & live in exile in a foreign country
Meanwhile countless families grieve the horrific loss of their children
Yes, a few verses later tell the story of “Slaughter of Innocents”
All under the cruel reign of a paranoid patron king of a hard Emperor
It’s easy for us to fall into the same narrative trap in our own lives, isn’t it.
I could recount for you the narrative of my own family through that lens.
Lost a job. Lost a house. Had to move to another state.
Then the promise of another job. Had to move again.
The economy & current events takes that job. Had to move again.
Landed in a difficult environment. Kids begin to fail & lose foundation.
Resigned. Sacrifice the job for the kids. Move into someone else’s home
I tell you, it’s enough to drive someone to despair and doubt and fear.
And yet, how could I tell that story without declaring God’s faithfulness in it?
I was able to finish my education & ordination requirements.
I was able to learn practically through several distinct congregations.
All through that my family has had our needs met, and even more
Unexpected gift after unexpected gift…all leading me here at this time.
And this leads us to the Good News I hope to share with you today.
This Good News is present in both readings; one overt & one implied:
Hear again these words from Isaiah:
“… and he became their savior … in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them …”
Knowing our situation
the brokenness of the world we live in
the damaged image of God in each of us
and our inability to make things right again on our own
God did not simply make a divine decree that would undermine his character
He did not simply send a messenger to us
It wasn’t just given to an angel come to us
It was God himself who offered his very presence to us
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”
God came to humanity personally … in the flesh, as we might say.
Jesus is no messenger.
Jesus is God … very God of very God … fully divine
There is no God above or outside of Jesus
He is the very, in flesh, embodiment of God personally present
That’s how much we are loved … you are loved … by God
We also see this in our narrative story in the Gospel of Matthew;
The story of a God who was not born apart from us like an aloof king
But the story of a God born into poverty & exile & vulnerability
The story of a God enduring the human condition just as we do