The Second Sunday after Christmas
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

The Christmas message comes from angels and wise men: A savior, a king is born! And the world rejoices. But, in this morning’s gospel reading, Matthew tells of one individual who was pretty upset by this proclamation. His name was Herod the Great, and he was tetrarch or king of the Jews, second in power only to the Roman governor of Judea.

As king, Herod held a rather tenuous political position. That of keeping the peace among the oppressed Jewish populace and, at the same time, satisfying the economic and social demands of the oppressive Roman government. He was in a very real sense, a middleman—a Jew who worked for Rome. And although powerful in his own right, like most political middlemen, Herod’s professional neck was usually on the chopping block. The last thing on earth he wanted or needed was someone (like a Jewish Messiah) stealing his political thunder—making waves—and spreading notions of radical change or, even worse, revolution against Rome.

Needless to say, Herod was quite satisfied with things as they were. Despite the ulcers and sleepless nights, he felt secure in his position of being both Jewish royalty and a part of the Roman hierarchy. He knew life might not ever get any better, but it certainly could get worse—at any moment. And so, there was always in Herod this certain anxiety, a paranoia—a desperate need to hold fast to what he had. So when the rumor of the birth of a savior reached him, there was for Herod only one course of action. The “possibility” must be put to death.

You know the story. Because he is unable to identify or pinpoint the exact location of this alleged rival king, Herod orders that all Jewish males two years and under be put to death. But because Joseph is warned in a dream to take Jesus and flee to Egypt, Herod’s plan is foiled—while God’s plan continues to unfold.

And, as a part of God’s plan of Emmanuel, Herod himself becomes an important player, an important first. For Herod becomes the first person—with the sure exceptions of Mary and Joseph—to recognize the disruptive, unsettling nature of the incarnation.

As we gather here this morning, to celebrate the Christmas story, if we think the birth of Jesus is somehow less disruptive for us than it was for Herod, then we better think again. For behind the all the lovely innocence of that babe in a manger, there lies a truth heavier than the weight of the world.

To begin with, the incarnation is disruptive to us because most of us like our lives just the way they are: safe, secure and changeless. You know, there’s a little bit of Herod in all of us—a fear, an attitude that causes us to grip so tightly to what is, that we constantly fight the possibilities of what could be.

We spend enormous amounts of energy trying to preserve who and what we are. And, because of that, we build up walls around us—risking very little—and we wind up shutting ourselves off from much of the world and from God. And because of that, we find it difficult to participate in any kind of honest, open relationship—including our relationship with and obedience to God.

Aren’t we all resistant to change, and growth, and learning, scared to death by the possibility of giving up the old ways, scared to death of the implications of a babe in a manger, an incarnate God, a Lord of our lives? That the Christmas story might actually be true!

It’s ironic that the unsettling, disruptive nature of the incarnation, the very thing that scared Herod and should scare us (and, I think, deep down does scare us) is also the very thing that can save us.

God came to be with us as Emmanuel because we needed something new in our lives, something fresh and pure and radical and fully alive. You see, God doesn’t want us to be “middlemen” and “middlewomen,” always caught in-between—stagnant, cut off and dried out, hardened and fearing the worst.

God doesn’t want that at all. Instead, God desires to awaken in us the poet, the musician, the astronomer. The dreamer, the visionary, the lover, the healer, the comic, and especially the saint.

Fully considered, the proclamation of Christmas is both a terrible and a wonderful truth. Terrible because it means, if we accept it, that our lives can never be the same. And wonderful—for the same reason—because it will awaken and release the very best that is in us.

My wish and hope for you—and for me—and for everyone as we begin this new year is that we will come to accept the wonderful and true Christmas gift that God and this season offer: the grace of God in our hearts, and lives that are made new by the miracle of Emmanuel, –of “God with us.”

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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