January 2, 2019 Message

[Mat 2:1-23 RSV] 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: 6 'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; 8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." 9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; 11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20 "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."


Good News: Jesus became dependent on others

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

            Today we here a story that is basically the story of two different kings. On the one hand we have King Herod, and on the other hand we have Jesus.  Who they are and what they do are very different—we are then called to choose the king to follow.

Now King Herod is actually a very interesting historical character because he is a Jewish King in some people’s minds but not others. He comes to power in this unique period when the Romans have determined that the way to keep the Jews in check is to give them a Jewish king, but not too Jewish of a king. They have learned after the whole Maccabee debacle (In 167 BC the Jews rebelled against the Greeks and put a Maccabee on the throne because they refused to be ruled by a non-Jew). Herod is from the region of Idumea, of Edomite stock (they were of the children of Esau, not Isaac!) but he was raised as a Jew. The Romans thought Herod was a Jew. He ate Kosher, worshiped at the temple, and wore Jewish clothing. Yet the Jews thought he was not a Jew because he was not born of a line of Isaac.

            So Herod had the official backing of Rome, with troops and power to back him up, but only as long as he could keep things peaceful. Thus Herod forged a new and functioning state through basically statesmanship and force of will. He had to negotiate between Rome and Jerusalem—he had to keep the peace, and keep the people in fear. He was brutal, powerful, and very important. Now you don’t form a new dynasty without breaking a few eggs so to speak. At one point Herod fears that two of his sons might be becoming powerful enough to challenge him so he had them both killed. He does it legally—they are charged and convicted in a court of law. But the warning to his other sons has been given—dad will kill you if you think about challenging him. Later this leads to him also killing his wife—things had become rocky between him and her (you know since he had their children killed) so when he fears she is now disloyal, she is killed too. In fact he is so brutal that it is reported that Caesar Augustus said, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son” because Jews won’t eat pigs, so at least Herod’s pig would be safe.  Now not only is that funny, but also plays on words because in the Greek Pig is ‘us and son is ‘ulos. So it is very clever. 

            Herod is the type of man who is willing to sacrifice others and even his own family to make sure he is still in control. He keeps the kingdom together by force of will and by his sheer competence—if he makes a mistake on either side either the Jews will rebel and overthrow him, or the Romans will replace him. Yet he lives and does well for himself. In fact he makes great buildings and architectural projects during his lifetime. One of his enemies says, “He who has not seen Herod’s buildings has not seen a beautiful building.” He may not be good, but he is effective and who is going to stand against him when it comes to building a building?

            The other king we see today is Jesus, now Jesus starts from a very different place—Jesus after all is the Lord and Savior of all, he is literally God and can build and destroy entire galaxies with just his word. Remember, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God?” Yes? That means that Jesus helped create all the world, and at the end of it all he will un-create it. Jesus was, is, and will be the most powerful and competent person in the entire history of the world. And even though he has all this power and control he gives it all up to become a baby. Now babies are many things: cute, special, adorable, lovable, and so many things, but one thing that they are not is powerful. Babies cannot feed themselves, they cannot use a toilet, they cannot even roll over by themselves and yet Jesus goes from being the most powerful thing in existence to needing Mary to change his diaper. Think about that for a moment, he chooses to become completely dependent on others. In his life Jesus will still depend on others. He is sitting at the well waiting for the disciples to get back with food when he meets the woman at the well, why? (John 4:7 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+4&version=RSV) He could make the stones into a 7 course meal but chooses to be hungry there until his disciples get back with bread. He sits weeping in the garden of Gethsemane counting on his sleepy disciples for comfort (Matthew 26:40 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+26%3A40&version=RSV)

—even though he has archangels he could command to come give him better company than John, Peter, and James. If an asteroid hit the earth and destroyed it completely he would have been the only person who could make a bubble around himself and survive it, yet he counts on his friends and disciples all the time. Even though he literally doesn’t need anyone he chooses to be dependent on them.

            What a difference in lifestyle these two kings show us, yet here is the tough question, “Which do you try to emulate.” Now I know what you want to say, because you know it is the right answer. You want to say, “Jesus”. But can you honestly say you practice holy dependence and rejoice when you need others help because Christ did? I cannot. This past Thursday, as I was getting ready to give an earlier draft of this sermon at the Manor, I heard part of a conversation between an 80 year old woman and a 90 year old woman. They were talking about how they knew they should use the bell to call nurses to help them more often, but they were pretty sure that they could do things themselves. They talked about how tough it is to rely on others, because you get so used to doing it all yourself. I don’t think they are unique—I think most of us want to be able to do things for our self. We live in a society where our ninety year olds want to be independent, they don’t want to be a burden to the people paid to help them. We want to do it all ourselves and not have to rely on others.

            Yet Jesus came and became dependent; dependent on the disciples, dependent on Mary and Joseph, dependent on the wise men. If the wise men had not come with that gold, his family could not have afforded an extended trip to Egypt. Yet even in that case his dependence is used for the glory of God. Think about it, Egypt up till that point was the land who had enslaved the Israelites for 400 years, but now it becomes the place where Jesus found safety. So, as a Christian, you shouldn’t hate Egypt because of its past. Instead you find that there is good and bad in Egypt (pretty much like everywhere else). Jesus dependence leads to the healing of a rift between these nations. It is reconciliation in the form of a child.

            Jesus showed dependence bringing people together—he showed that by needing others we are able to be Christ and reveal Christ to one another. Think about this for a moment. If I am over here being competent, and you are over there being competent and if we both can do it ourselves, then why do we need each other? Why do we need God? We like to think we can do it all, but the truth is we cannot do it ourselves, as hard as we try, we are not good enough and when we try to be like Herod we end up doing damage like Herod. Our lives are surrounded by the messes that we leave behind. Oh, it may look good. But the damage is there.

            Jesus instead shows us a better way, a way of dependence on God. He tells us, God has already saved you, and has already won the victory—come be a part of that. God then gathers around a motley group of people (that’s us, the church, by the way) and he says I am going to use them to help other people who need it. Not because you can do it yourself (you cannot) but because I can do it through you.

            Now I know this is the wrong time for this sermon, because you are all only a week into your new year’s resolutions—you have just said, “This year I am going to do it all!” I will lose weight, make more money, read more books, and be the person you always knew you could be!” Yet God says, that is just an illusion, I made you to need me, but together I can do big things in you, lean into me, spend time with me, and then I will change the world with you.

            So this year you will be called to follow one of these kings, and it will be very tempting to stand up and say, I can do it myself. It’s like that two year old in all of us, who stands up and says, “We are big people and can do it all.” Yet instead we are called to follow a baby, rely on God and then in our dependence see where God will send us next.