First Sunday after Christmas
December 26, 2010
Text: Matt. 2:13-23
At first glance it may seem like our Gospel this morning is a bit of a downer for the day after Christmas. A paranoid king, the holy family’s flight to Egypt for their very lives, the merciless slaughter of all the infant boys of Bethlehem, Rachel, the matriarch of the tribes of Israel, weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted.
Of course, December the 26th has a reputation of its own for being a let down day, at least in the U.S.A. Other countries continue their celebration today as Boxing Day, a day traditionally set aside to give to those in need. This holiday is the heir of the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, which is also today. Perhaps you remember a song about the charitable good King Wenceslas, who gave alms for a poor peasant “on the feast of Stephen.” At any rate, we in the United States rarely think of December 26th as anything other than the day after Christmas, the day we pay for all of our celebrating with bloated bellies and aching heads, the day the kids are already bored with the new toys, the day we begin to anticipate the inevitable credit card bill winding its way through the mail, the day we realize that Christmas didn’t live up to all of our expectations.
Misery loves company. Maybe our Gospel lesson is not so strange after all. But if we aren’t careful, we’ll miss it. We’ll miss the fact that this morning’s Gospel is precisely what Christmas is all about. If you’ve been with us throughout the Christmas pilgrimage, you heard it yesterday morning, and the evening before, and a week ago today, the Christmas mystery: Almighty God comes in our flesh, into the midst of our mess, to save us. For too long we’ve bought into the lie, perpetuated by manger scenes and Christmas cards, that the night our Savior was born was serene, tranquil, peaceful. Not so! Remember? Mary gave birth to the God of the universe and laid Him in a manger, the feeding trough for animals, because there was no vacancy, no room for them in the inn. Imagine the stench in the stable! Could it possibly have been comfortable? Could it possibly have been sanitary? And Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have been in this predicament in the first place if that tyrant who thinks he’s a god, Caesar Augustus, hadn’t declared a census and made everyone travel back to the town of his ancestors. Talk about intrusive government! And the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, is not announced to royalty, nor to the clergy, but to dirty, smelly shepherds who’ve been sleeping outside with their flock all night. It’s not really a pretty picture. Not on the surface. The beauty is not in the scene itself, but in the glorious reality that God in the flesh comes in the midst of this mess!
God in the flesh is with us in the very midst of the worst we have to offer. He comes as a subject of the lunatic King Herod and the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. He comes to the holy family in the midst of controversy, an unwed teenage mother, a threatened divorce, angelic appearances to Mary and Joseph revealing that He is conceived by the Holy Spirit, the long journey to Bethlehem, and the flight into Egypt. He comes, and from the moment He is born, He is a marked man. Herod thirsts for His blood. It is a foreshadowing of the cross. Jesus escapes this time, but all the boys of Bethlehem two years old and under are ripped from their mothers’ arms and slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers. We call them the Holy Innocents, because they had done nothing deserving of death. We call them the first martyrs for Christ, even before St. Stephen, because they had been brought into God’s saving covenant through the Sacrament of circumcision, and were the first privileged to shed their blood for the sake of Christ. Jesus comes in the midst of all of this. It isn’t the usual scene from the picturesque Christmas card. It is reality. It is the reality that the Christ Child came to redeem.
For when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son. Jesus came, born of a woman, taking His flesh from the Virgin Mary, born under the Law to redeem those who are under the Law (Gal. 4:4-5). Notice, at just the right time, in just the right place, the Father sends the Son. Jesus breaks in. He comes. That means that all of this is according to God’s plan. It is no accident that Jesus comes when all of this evil is taking place. It comes to pass, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled. And this is true for us, as well. You want to talk about the slaughter of infants, just think of the tragedy of abortion in this country and in all the nations of the world. The truth is, our Christmas doesn’t look anything like the scene from the picturesque Christmas card, either. Nor does our Christmas look anything like Nat King Cole says it should. Who roasts chestnuts on an open fire anyway? And Jack Frost nipping at your nose is called frostbite. It’s dangerous. Tiny tots’ hearts are aglow because they’re greedy, and they want presents. And we adults are greedy too. And even if we get everything on our Christmas list, we still feel empty on December 26th, because things can’t fill us. But Jesus can. And Jesus comes. Jesus comes right in the very midst of our greed and emptiness and misery and death. Don’t miss it. Don’t let the devil trick you. Don’t give in to his temptations to be depressed. Don’t give in to believing his lies that Christmas has failed you.
The problem isn’t Christmas, it’s you! Your expectations are all wrong. Did you really think there would be world peace, or even peace among quarreling family members this Christmas? You were expecting sinners not to sin. Did you really believe that receiving that coveted gift would complete you? It is empty, here today, gone tomorrow, and its promise of happiness is hollow. You have made a perishable thing your idol. Repent. I’m not trying to be the Grinch who stole Christmas here. I love Christmas. And that’s why I’m preaching to myself as much as to anyone else. It’s really easy for a pastor to succumb to the weariness and feelings of futility this time of year. But beloved, when we Christians do this, we’ve missed what really happened at Christmas. Jesus came. Jesus comes among us now. Jesus will come again. It’s the same Advent drumbeat, only now fulfilled with the birth of the Christ child. Unto you, unto you, unto you, is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:11).
Today is NOT the day after Christmas. It’s Christmas now. For one thing, there’s the Twelve Days of Christmas in the Church Year (no, it’s not just a silly song!). The world may be packing away the decorations until next year, but the Church’s celebration is just beginning. It is Christmas until January 6th, the Epiphany of our Lord, which is actually then a second celebration of Christmas as Christ is revealed to the wise men as the Savior of the nations. But even more than this, any and every day is Christmas for the Christian. There is this old Elvis Presley song called “Why Can’t Everyday Be Like Christmas?” For the Christian, it is! Because Christmas is not about the presents or the food or the decorations or the jolly old fat man in the red suit. Christmas is about the abiding reality that God is with us, clothed in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. That is true every day. Christmas is about the Christ Mass. We are celebrating it again right now. The Christ Mass is Christ coming to speak with us in His Word, calling us back to our Baptism into Him, and feeding us with His true body and blood for our forgiveness in the Supper. Christmas is about Christ coming here to us now and applying His keeping of the Law, His death, and His resurrection to us in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. So Christmas hasn’t failed. It is going on right here, right now, to you, for you. Look nowhere else, beloved. The Word became flesh. He is dwelling among you, in the midst of your messy life. Don’t miss it. He is forgiving you and making you whole. Merry Christmas! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.