December 29, 2019
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R. Wright
I said last Sunday that Luke was like a film director. Well, it turns out that Matthew is too … and in our passage he is trying his hand at filming a chase scene:
Herod is the bad guy. He is threatened by the prospect that there is another king in Israel.
He is infuriated that the magi have double-crossed him and given him the slip.
He will deal with this tiny usurper. He won’t get his own hands dirty. He’ll send others.
They ride into town and kill all the children in and around Bethlehem under age two.
But Jesus escapes!
A modern director would have a get-away car with smoking tires, shots fired, crashing pursuers, maybe even an explosion or two. Mathew has to make do with an angel, a dream, and a get-away donkey! But the point is the same:
Joseph takes the child and his mother and escapes!
Well, actually, they survive, but they can never really escape the burden of survivor’s guilt.
As one preacher put it, “The little family survives, [but] they surely experience grief over the children who are not saved, perhaps some of them friends.”1
They are like soldiers who made it home from war while others did not; or students who survived a school shooting; or people who tug down their sleeves to hide numbers tattooed on their left forearm. They are grateful to have survived, sure, but are unable to explain why they lived and others died; not sure how to justify their good fortune; unable to defend their existence to those who wonder why their loved ones were killed.
Yes, the holy family survived, but not without scars.
“Some of [Jesus’] earliest memories may have been sensing the fear in his parents’ voices as they [told] him not to play outside, as they [hid] him until they [were] beyond danger.” Or maybe it was a sense of rootlessness that comes with being far from home, or always being on the move, or never being sure of your next meal. Or perhaps it was the whispers of the neighbors that they are different, unwelcome, a threat.
They are like those refugees who find their way to a camp for others of their kind. They long to go home, but the threat there is too great. In the meantime they make shelter as best they can, but it is never warm enough at night, never dry when the storms come, never as secure as a real home. Food is always in short supply. They survive, but just barely. And the nightmares are never far away.
Jesus survived, but what he survived molded him and shaped his ministry. More than most he felt comfortable with those on the margins, those marked by illness or gender, by poverty or low social status. “We see him warmly accepting people from other places, religions, and races. He eats with them, laughs with them, and welcomes the outsider.” He longs that all of them would feel loved. He dedicates his life to saving them, so they might escape the chains of sin and oppression. It is who he was raised to be.
We cannot escape that legacy. If we are serious about being followers of Christ, people who are becoming more and more like him, then like him we will marvel at the gift of being alive and dedicate our lives to helping those who are on the margins.
Today we will do that by assembling packages of bean soup – enough to feed 2000 of our neighbors who have survived floods or fires, escaping with little more than the clothes on their backs; as well as those for whom every day is a struggle to survive.
This is what we will do today. Tomorrow God may call us to do something else, to touch other lives. But whatever it is will be driven by love.
Come, let us put the gospel into practice; let’s keep hope alive! Amen.
1 here and subsequently, from “Jesus the Refugee”, posted by Melissa Bane Sevier 12/26/16