Along with this sermon, a prayer for the new year was offered by Jonathan Sledge during worship on this final Sunday of 2013. Read it here.
Text: Matthew 2:13-23
Part one of the Christmas story is that sometimes life is beautiful and wonderful, filled with goodness and grace, and of unexpected moments of great joy and unimaginable hope. Part one offers us angelic voices, bright lights, guiding stars, shepherds who keep watch for us and wise ones who bring gold sparkling gifts to us. It reminds us of those moments in life when all is good, when we are held in safety and in light, when we find peace within us and all around us. Part one is that feeling we have when all is right with the world—when we can see that love is bigger than hate and good outweighs evil. I love part one of the Christmas story—the part that gives me glimpses of hope, peace, joy and love. And I don’t know about you but I need part one of the Christmas story. I need to know that sometimes life is beautiful and wonderful – even magical, filled with goodness and grace, and those unexpected moments of great joy and unimaginable hope. And so I am grateful for part one of the story.
But it is not the full story; and today Matthew reminds us that there is a part two of the Christmas story. And part two of the story is that sometimes life is hard, gritty, disappointing, and filled with heartache. The continuation of the Christmas story that Matthew tells on this first Sunday of Christmas is heavy and dark. He tells of the treacherous journey that Mary, Joseph and their newborn take in the days following the birth which includes “a grim account of wholesale massacre and night flights to safety [that] would seem far-fetched were it not for similar atrocities and tragedies happening right now in our world. How many families, for instance, are being dislocated in Syria even as we gather for worship. And how many children are being starved to death around the world as we finish up or throw away holiday leftovers. And how many families, perhaps some even in our congregations, are contending with their own private sorrows and hardships only exacerbated by expectations for a perfect Christmas.” So while the part of the story that Matthew tells may be dark and difficult, it isn’t even a little bit far-fetched if we really think about it.