January 1, 2023

"No Place to Call Home”

Rev. Scott Landis

Matthew 2:1-23

Things changed quickly for the Holy Family as the “silent night” of Christmas Eve moved rapidly to a flight for their lives shortly thereafter. Having been warned in a dream they quickly made their way to Egypt. Fleeing as refugees they sought asylum when Herod vowed to stop at nothing to maintain his power. Herod thought he had been tricked by the magi who did NOT return to him to let him know the whereabouts of the “newborn king.” So, he decreed that all male children – those under the age of 2 be murdered. Narcissistic, fearful, jealous, and proud, Herod would not take any chances that even an infant could rival his authority.

Deeply disturbing, this story is an eye-opener to be sure. Shocking – yet strangely familiar, as we too, have witnessed the consequences of ruthless and narcissistic leaders who will stop at nothing to maintain absolute power. It is as tough to read as it is to understand. Why would Herod do such a thing? Why would God allow such a thing? Why did no one take it upon themselves to prevent or stop such a thing? [Pause]

The story is often conveniently overlooked in deference to the more palatable lessons for this Sunday nestled between Christmas Eve – the birth of Jesus, and Epiphany – the day the magi came to worship him bringing their treasured gifts. We want to ignore this story because it completely jolts us out of any remaining sentimental notions of Christmas and brings us face-to-face with the reality of the lives of the Holy Family as they move from being unhoused to refugees. A reality unfortunately known by too many today. [Pause]

Having lived in a border city for nearly two decades it was impossible NOT to come face to face with this very same issue we read about in the gospel. So often demonized by political pundits as folks coming into our country looking for a free ride – I can assure you – nothing could be further from the truth. Those who made their way to Tijuana (and other border cities in Mexico) did NOT want to leave their homeland. But they felt they had no option as they fled torture, rape, and intolerable living conditions. They were refugees seeking asylum. Whether from drug war lords, completely dysfunctional government systems, or near starvation – those trying to cross the border risked their lives as they took a chance on the United States as their last hope of survival, of “getting out” and finding opportunity for their children AND for themselves – a last chance at a much better life.

Joseph was doing exactly the same. Under the cloak of darkness, hiding in the shadows, he now moved his post-partum wife and infant baby child to a foreign land to live in exile until it was safe for them to return. And, even when he was given to return, he did so in fear of Herod’s son – Archelaus – whom he did not trust. So, instead of moving back to his home he journeyed northward to Galilee to live among strangers in the city of Nazareth – the place where Jesus spent the rest of his childhood. [Pause]

There is so much that is disturbing in this story. It’s hard to know where to begin. It’s a story that can strike fear into our hearts or deep frustration because it hits so close to home – elucidating problems that are very difficult to resolve.

We have witnessed firsthand how dangerous it is when narcissistic leaders do whatever is necessary to maintain political power. AND we have seen just how “spineless” those who surround them can be as they choose NOT to stand up to the “leader” for fear that they too will be hung out to dry.

When a political leader apparently brings stability, prosperity, and security to the privileged – folks will do whatever is necessary to maintain the status quo and NOT question their authority even when injustices are obvious. This situation demonstrates how different the spheres of human power and holy authority can be.

Human power is based on strength, might, numbers, and money – and the insistence on maintaining the status quo that benefits those who have the strength, might, numbers, and money. Holy authority is based on servanthood, careful discernment, self-sacrifice, and a courage that comes from Spirit and confidence, not weapons and fear.

Herod demonstrated both his fear that his power might be rivaled by the so called “King of the Jews” and his ability to convince others of just how horrible it would be if the Messiah would one day supplant his leadership.

But what God demonstrated was that no human power could prevent the authority of God made manifest in servant leadership of Jesus.

And what Jesus demonstrated is that he learned very early in his life what it meant to live as a refugee and that the “Son of man would, indeed, have no place to lay down his head.” No place to call home. [Pause]

As the Christmas season all too rapidly draws to a close for another year, I invite you to pay very close attention to the ways of the world and just how different they are from the ways of God. I also invite you, in your prayer, to listen very carefully to your heart. What is God calling forth in you? What can you affirm and what do you need to refute? What injustices do you see that you need to speak up against? How might you respond effectively and advocate for those who are obvious refugees today – the unhoused, the unemployed, the unprotected, those without voice or agency. I believe God hears our cry and will honor our desire to make our world a better one for all.

Just as Pharoah could not obliterate the authority of God as God provided liberation through the leadership of Moses. Just as Herod could not obliterate the authority of God through the sacrificial leadership of Jesus. Neither can secular powers today obliterate the authority of God if the people of God are willing to take bold and faithful stands for justice and peace. It is up to each one of us to listen carefully to what God is calling forth today and then to do everything we can that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

May our worship. May our prayer. May our song. May our fellowship empower us to be servants of God in all we do.


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