First Sunday of Christmas (Year A, 26 December 2010)

We are Christmas people

Isaiah 63.7-9
Hebrews 2.10-18
Matthew 2.13-23

Christmas is intended to be a jolly time, whether you’re into Santa or the Nativity of Jesus. On the one hand, it’s about presents, food and drink; on the other, it’s about the cutest baby you ever saw. But that isn’t the whole Christmas story by any stretch of the imagination. And Christmas isn’t necessarily a wonderful time. It can be a time that brings losses and griefs to the front of our minds. It can be a very sad time, a time for tears.

Today, we heard the part of the Christmas story that has to do with loss and grief. The bit you don’t hear about while you’re dashing through the snow or sitting on Santa’s knee.

Of course, it’s the part where, in Matthew’s Gospel, Bethlehem loses all its boy children under two years of age. It’s called ‘The Slaughter of the Innocents’.

Listen to this:

The very story of Christmas is dark. Mary and Joseph, already fraught in a situation full of tension, are forced to participate in a census carried on by oppressive occupiers known for cruelty, corruption, and bullying. The town is so crowded, there’s no comfortable place for the pregnant girl about to deliver her child, so the couple settle for an animal’s hut or cave, neither clean nor pretty. Meanwhile, the local king, a paranoid maniac, orders the massacre of all the male children under the age of two in a savage act of terror. The mother and father escape, carrying with their child the guilt of survival.

Wherever you look in the Christmas story, there is discord. Mary was unexpectedly pregnant in an unforeseen way, which many would not understand; the Romans were brutally occupying the land; Herod was so murderously vindictive it was said his pigs’ lives were safer than his sons (a great pun in Greek; his huoi were safer than his huioi).

The women of Bethlehem were left grieving, while Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to Egypt. Does God care about kids? We know the answer is ‘yes’—but it’s not obvious from the story of the ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’. After all, only one is saved—God’s Son. The rest seem to be expendable.

Jesus was born in a difficult and dangerous time. We shouldn’t think that Jesus was born into a relatively peaceful place like Centenary. Jesus was a marginal person, a ‘wanted’ baby dead or alive, preferably dead.

Christmas isn’t much better for many children today; and when we make Christmas all sentimental, we miss this reality. For most children in today’s world, life is difficult and may be dangerous: they may not have enough to eat; they may have illnesses like malaria or typhoid fever; they don’t have an education. Their parents may have died of AIDS. They may live in places where life is insecure because of civil unrest or war.

And it’s the same on Christmas Day.

Some children are conscripted to fight. Others are the victims of sex trafficking. Some work long hours in sweatshops to provide cheap clothing for Australians. Others are the children of asylum seekers who spend long stretches of their childhood in detention camps.

And it’s the same on Christmas Day.

God does care. The clue is in the birth of Jesus. Hundreds of years before, this was written in the Book of Isaiah:

God said, ‘Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely’;
and he became their saviour
in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
but God’s presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.

For the people who first heard this prophetic word, God was present in the way they were brought from exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem.

Jesus fulfilled this prophetic word. He fulfilled it because in him the eternal God became human. It really was ‘God’s presence that saved them’. It was Emmanuel, God-with-us, who shared our lot. As our Hebrews reading says,

Jesus had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect… Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

God does care. God became like us in every respect. We proclaim this astounding truth: God eternally shares our humanity—and the humanity of every suffering child.

God is not far away from any suffering child. God is close to all who suffer, because they are God’s beloved children. And Jesus’ sisters and brothers.

What’s this Christmas been like for you? Not everyone has had a wonderful time. For many in our world, it’s just another day. Whether our own Christmas was happy or not, we are Christmas people—people of hope, and joy, and peace, and compassion.

It was no messenger or angel
but God’s presence that saved them…

We are Christmas people: God’s presence is with us. It’s only when we go through life with our eyes closed that we fail to see what God is doing.

God is working in the mess of life to bring salvation. It may not be at the time of our choosing, but the timing is important: God is forming us as his children, and that takes time.

Children of God look out for one another. They help where another is suffering, whoever that child may be; they try to relieve suffering; they address government policies that cause suffering. They work with God to bring healing in the mess of life, wherever there is hardship.

There are many ways we can help—Operation Christmas Child; the Christmas Bowl; Kids Hope; Maiti Nepal; refugee resettlement projects. The list goes on; the mess goes on; God’s saving work goes on. And never ends.

It was no messenger or angel
but God’s presence that saved them…

Thank God for sending his Son Jesus, and for pouring the Holy Spirit out. Thank God for opened eyes, and ask that they be opened wider in 2011. Thank God for the call to be Christmas people, people of justice and peace, and children of God!

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