Sermon 1st January 2017

Listen Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxIHFPcL2nc

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our Lord and Saviour.

Amen

Since the end WW2 our part of the world has experienced a time of peace and safe living. Growing up in the 60s and 70s and hearing stories like the gospel story today I remember thinking (maybe naively) Herod to be quite surreal, a storybook villain, a man from the dark ages. Would anyone in modern times be as stupid a ruler as Herod to indiscriminately kill baby boys just because he feared what they might become as grownups?

However watching the war in Syria or Yemen escalate from protest to merciless  war, bringing the death of men, women and children with modern technology and ancient methods of starvation and executions, the inhumanity of man to man and the depth of depravity humans can commit against each other has yet again been demonstrated.

“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” – the words of Jeremiah quoted today by Matthew telling us of another atrocity.

 

Who can bear to watch the news? Yet, if we look away from what the powerful and mighty, the leaders of the nations are doing, what are we permitting them to get away with?

But can we do much if anything, faced with the suffering of so many and being small cogs in the terrible machinery of world powers?

 

Today’s gospel story is far from the sweet Christmas manger scene we loved to remember last Sunday morning. Today Matthew sets before us nothing approaching sentimentality or sweetness. Instead we recognise our world in this story, at times brutal, indiscriminate and pointlessly cruel.

Matthew sets before us the actions of two kings. One, Herod, is using the statecraft of his time to ensure his power. Herod, undeservedly called the great, thought nothing of killing even members of his own family, including his own wife, when he suspected them of scheming against him. As his power had increased so had his paranoia and if some village children had to die, so what! Call it collateral damage!

 

The other king has only been reverenced by humble folk and some wise men from the east. Seeing this small baby boy and his parents no one would guess that you were in the presence of greatness.

Tom Wright remembers a Christmas service after which a famous, sceptical historian approached him all smiles and said: “I’ve finally worked out why people love Christmas!” Really, Tom Wight said. Do tell me. “A baby threatens no one, said the historian, “So the whole thing is a happy event which means nothing at all.”

Tom Wright was dumbfounded and today’s story tells of the most powerful man of the time trying to move heaven and earth to get rid of the threat this small baby poses.

For this is the One God has chosen to enact justice and to bring real peace. And bringing real peace and being just means a critique of the way things are and have always been. It threatens all selfish, greed obsessed ways which ride rough shod over those of little importance, wealth or connection. Herod was right to be worried.

Yet for all his cruel power Herod dies! And it is reported that when he lay dying he gave orders that the leading citizens of Jericho should be slaughtered so that the people would be weeping at his funeral. Outrageous and sick!

Though small and fragile, poor and a migrant in foreign lands the son of God is saved and has a future. Joseph listened to the angel voices and bravely led his family in flight. Egypt sheltered this refugee family and Coptic Christians are still proud that their country offered sanctuary to the Son of God.

 

And so it was that the baby boy grew up and impressed with his wisdom, his preaching and teaching, his healing and acts of kindness.

His path leads him like many rebels since finally to the cross. But unlike Herod, Jesus does not just die but rises to new life, God’s great Yes to all Jesus said and did for us.

The passage in the letter to the Hebrews gives the interpretation for us what Jesus’ death meant. God’s incarnation did not come cheaply or easily but meant he truly suffered and died. His perfection was not in a moral sense but a perfect alignment with humanity even unto death, qualifying him supremely to be the Messiah, placed above all angels and powers and sitting on God’s throne.

Christ is for all who listen the model of hope that love and life will overcome and the model of endurance – suffering and death will not have the last word.

 

So who or what is powerful in the end? Herod and his soldiers, advisers and minions then or now? Or this child, the seed of God in a rough and dangerous world?

 

Romano Guardini wrote:    The quiet Powers

 

In the silence great things happen.

Not in the noise or pomp of external events,

but in the clearness of insight

in the silent movement of decision making

in the hidden sacrifice and overcoming: When

the heart is touched by love,

freedom of spirit is called to action

and the womb is fruitfully set to work.

The quiet powers are those truly strong.

 

At Yad Vashem in Jerusalem six candles, representing the 1,5 million children killed in the Holocaust, are reflected hundreds of times in mirrors. At Christmas we remember John’s word of Christ, the light of the World, which has come.

John 1, 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

So let us not be overcome but live from the light of God, take a step at a time forward in a sorrowful world but sharing peace and love with those we meet and live with.

For never forget: God has come, Emmanuel, to make his home with us through his loving Spirit. Walk and live with him in this new year.

Amen