Sunday, December 29, 2019

First Sunday After Christmas

"Hānau ʻia ʻo Iesū : Jesus is born"

Rev. Kealahou Alika

Matthew 2:13-23

It was only a few days ago that we commemorated the birth of Jesus. While we may want to hold on to the moment when it is said an angel with a multitude of heavenly host praised God and shepherds glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard (Luke 1:15-20), our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew is concerned, not about Jesus as a newborn infant, but about Jesus as a child. He is no longer a babe in a manger.

Our Gospel lesson for this Sunday narrates the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ “flight to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, and then their [return to Israel and their] settlement in Nazareth” (Preaching the Word, Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page 46). Biblical scholars share varying views about Jesus’ age. Some contend that he was still an infant arguing that there are no external documents or sources to verify what Matthew seems to suggest.

Herod’s decision to have all of the children in Bethlehem two years old and under killed indicates that he was quite certain that Jesus was less than two years old at the time. Other scholars argue that the slaughter of the children did not occur even though Matthew sought to draw a parallel between those weeping for their children in Bethlehem with the words of the prophet Jeremiah about Rachel weeping for her children in Ramah because they were no more.

Still others will say while there may not be other documents or sources outside of the Biblical text verifying that the slaughter occurred, the Jewish historian Josephus makes it clear that Herod was capable of such an atrocity (Antiquities of the Jews, 17:6; 5-6). He paints a picture of an aging king who was paranoid and blood-thirsty. “When faced with a perceived threat to his power,” Josephus writes, “[Herod] was willing to kill his own family members” and he did, including one of his wives and three of his sons.

Nearing his death, Josephus goes on to say, Herod “sent for his sister Salome and her husband Alexas and spoke them saying, “I shall die in a little time . . . but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented and without such mourning as men usually expect at a king’s death.”

Herod informed them that he was going to summon to himself “all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation,’ wherever they lived. Once the men were gathered, he announced “the whole nation to be in mourning and so he ordered that one person of every family be killed although they had done nothing that was unjust or against him, nor were they accused of any crime.”

While there are no other records of the slaughter, it is plausible that Herod, in his fury, was capable of ordering all children two years old and under in Bethlehem to be killed. When Joseph is warned in a dream to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt, we become aware that they must seek refuge in another country for their own safety. To say, then, that they were refugees would not be an understatement.

After Herod’s death, another angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and instructed them to return to Israel. Some scholars believe that when they returned to Nazareth, Jesus may have been around 4 years old.

What becomes evident in the Matthew’s stories is that Jesus’ identity is clearly stated: Jesus is the Son of God (Preaching the Word, Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page 51). As such, Matthew is concerned about telling us who Jesus is.

He is Jesus of Nazareth but he is also Jesus of Bethlehem. He fulfills the role and purpose of Israel in that, like Israel, Jesus was called of God out of Egypt (Matthew 3:13-4:11).

In time, we will come to understand and know more fully as will Mary and Joseph and others, the profound significance of Jesus’ birth and his life, death and resurrection. “Like many immigrants today, Joseph took his family across [a] border when they were in danger. Though they eventually returned to their home country, danger was still a present possibility.”

We need only to look at the more than 71 million people around the world who face such danger at this present moment in refugee camps along the borders of many countries to know the difficulties Mary and Joseph faced (Feasting on the Word, Liturgies for the Year A, Volume 1, Kimberly Bracken Long, Editor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky,2013, page 32).

Matthew’s account of the early years of Jesus’ life provides us with a glimpse of the world in which he lived. In time, his life and ministry would eventually threaten those who held power in his day?

We would be wise to ask ourselves how are we, as Christians, among the present powers challenging the violence and injustice we see around us today. What dream or vision do we have for the world Jesus came to save?

In 1984, Mark Lowry wrote the lyrics to the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” In 1991 Buddy Greene put the words to music and it was recorded in that same year by Michael English. Since then, numerous other musicians and singers have offered their cover versions of the song.

In many ways, Lowry offers us a vision of what will come to pass when he asks Mary the following questions:

Mary, did you know
that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know
that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby you’ve kissed the face of God.

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
And the dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb.

Mary, did you know
that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know
that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb.
This sleeping child you’re holding is the Great I Am.

Oh, Mary did you know?

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