Saturday, December 29, 2007

A, Christmas 1 - Matthew 2:13-23 "Christ out of the box"

In 2004, two tectonic plates deep below the Indian Ocean floor gave a massive jolt as they pushed against each other with gigantic force. Up above, on Indian Ocean beaches, people were going about their business as per usual, the day after Christmas. In the hours that followed many of these people were swept away by the Boxing Day tsunami; the consequences of the deep ocean earthquake just off Indonesia. Those left behind had nothing to celebrate having lost parents, children, other relatives, and their earthly possessions.

Nature unleashed its power, and there was absolutely nothing anyone could do to stop it. Not only were the survivors in South-East Asia, Sri Lanka, and India deeply shaken, but all people on earth were called to attention as the death toll soared into the tens and hundreds of thousands.

On the three year anniversary of the disaster, documentaries were aired in remembrance of the tragedy. Home video footage was shown of the events as the earthquake and tsunami unfolded. To see the unedited recordings pieced together in chronological order — of the tide being artificially sucked out; then the tsunami waves wreaking havoc on the villages, sweeping away tourists and locals; followed by the colossal aftermath of death and destruction — narrated by those who survived the flooding waves, gave one a sense of the overwhelming horror of those hours on Sunday morning, the twenty-sixth of December, 2004.

Scenes of destruction in the wake of the tsunami filled the television screen. One displaced local man sits next to his bicycle, surrounded by utter chaos, and uncontrollably sobs having lost his wife and children. He hopelessly cries, “I don’t have anybody left. Why have I been left? Why has God abandoned me?” Then pictures of the clean up are splashed across the screen, of which one is of a naked infant child, its little body stiff with death, being picked out of a destroyed house.

One can’t but help think of the implications of such a disaster if it happened here, or if it was yours and my child or family, the day after Christmas.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

O thou holiest, O thou happiest — Grace-bestowing Christmastide! Christ in a manger —Saves from all danger: O rejoice, ye Christians far and wide! (LHS 630)

If Christ in a manger saves from all danger, why then did Herod’s men so easily march through Bethlehem and slaughter so many baby boys? Imagine the waves of chaos rippling throughout the district in the wake of such an event? Think of their grief, their confusion, and their anger, that Christmas. Just like the suffering survivors after the tsunami, so too the families of the murdered Bethlehem boys! All was not calm, all was not bright, Christ the Saviour was born, and as a consequence, the little Boys of Bethlehem are dead! Why?

Imagine if death, chaos, and destruction erupted amongst us! What would your Christmas be like; what would you make of the situation before God Almighty — before the holy Christ child? Put yourselves in the place of the survivors, and your dead children and families in the places of their dead children and families.

O thou holiest, O thou happiest — Peace-proclaiming Christmastide! Christ’s light is beaming — Mankind redeeming: O rejoice, ye Christians far and wide! (LHS 630)

It makes us sit up and put Christmas under the microscope, it leads us to examine ourselves in the face of Christmas, Christ the King, and the tyranny of our sinful nature and the death we all deserve. Our twenty-first century ideals of Christmas, peace, and good will, need to be constantly reviewed!

Christ the Saviour has come, but what has he brought with him? The Son of God has been born to Mary and laid in a manger at Bethlehem, and yet because of him he is taken by his family and they flee to Egypt, while the locals receive anything but Christmas peace and good will from the hands of Herod. And all because Christ the Saviour is born!

He was born into the evil and sin of humanity’s flesh, to suffer in the flesh, and to save us from the futility and hopelessness of our human flesh, having not succumbed to the evil and sin of humanity’s flesh.

So as we grumble about the cost of living, the high price of fuel, the cheapness of our broken Christmas presents. Or as we erupt through the doors of department stores in a wave of Boxing Day bargain hunters grabbing bargains amongst the chaos of greed. Or as we begin to worry that the Christmas cheer, has caused our waistlines to overflow, and our cholesterol to dangerously surge, then the true reality of Christ’s coming and what he reveals as important uncovers all these other things to be completely irrelevant to the ‘life and death’ necessities of life.

In comparison to where Christ calls us, our twenty-first century greed and ideals look rather silly, stupid, and foolish — don’t they?

If the Jesus you look for is just to sugar coat and justify your reality — so that he might perform like a feel good sidewalk entertainer, allowed to come out of a gift-wrapped box once a year to appease your emotions — then perhaps you need to have another look at why he was born into this world, to see what his mission was and is and continues to be. A sobering look at the reality of death, and the warning signs in creation, is definitely in order.

How is it that on Boxing Day, the very day after we celebrate the birth of Christ, many of us seek to shove him back into a box where he’s out of sight until next Christmas? The true gift of Christ unwrapped in your heart, and the work he does there, works when we allow him to remain unboxed within ourselves!

You, like us all, are being called to repentance, hope, and peace in the suffering of the cross. And if at any moment you are allowed to experience even a little of the suffering we all truly deserve, where would you allow it to deliver you? To the suffering Son of God at the cross, who forgives and bears and shares your suffering? Or maybe to the blame game — holding God responsible for the suffering of your sinful nature? I guarantee you won’t seek a cotton candy type of Christ fulfilling happy human ideals with Christmas wrappings! You know the feel good saviour that disintegrates the moment it’s exposed to the watery chaos of sin suffering and death?

Now let’s return to the fellow in the midst of the tsunami destruction who hopelessly cries, “I don’t have anybody left. Why have I been left? Why has God abandoned me?” What he says strikes me as unusual. I’m surprised he doesn’t cry out something like, “What has happened to my children, my family; why have they been taken from me? God what have you done to me? What have I done to deserve this?” But no, instead this grief struck man sees God in death; not in life. For him, living is the abandonment of God, not death!

Whether he seeks the one true God or another god in his family or elsewhere is not known; but there are two things on which we can reflect. What is my G/god — in what or whom do I put my trust in good times and in bad? And secondly, in the face of death, and sin and suffering, how does this G/god perform, for you, in you?

O thou holiest, O thou happiest — Life-imparting Christmastide! Angels from glory —Chant the great story: O rejoice, ye Christians far and wide! (LHS 630)