Second Sunday after Christmas Day
January 4, 2003
The Gospel: Matthew 2:13-23
Sermon: "Do We Still Believe in Miracles?"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
When the wise men who had come from the East had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son" ... When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Do We Still Believe in Miracles?
Second Sunday after Christmas Day - January 4, 2003
Sometimes one wonders why the church chooses the lessons in the manner they do. Today's lesson is one good example. The lesson is from Matthew's Gospel, the second chapter. We read verses 13-15 and 19-23. As we just heard these verses explain the movement of Jesus' family to Egypt after the visit of the magi and their return to Nazareth after Herod's death. The verses skipped, 16-18, describe what happened in Bethlehem after they left. All of the male children in the town under two years of age were killed by Herod's soldiers. Does the church believe we will have trouble with these verses? God sent an angel to warn Joseph and Mary. Why didn't God warn all of the other parents too? Does the church believe we would question what God did at this time? My guess is that is exactly what is feared. Reading these verses may cause us to question what God was doing.
The problem lies not in the story but in how we read it. If we read the story straight through it sounds like a newspaper report. The magi visited. The angel comes to Mary and Joseph. They go to Egypt. In the missing verses Herod is angered by the magi's deception. In his anger he kills all the male children. Then when Herod dies an angel tells Joseph it is safe to return. Joseph plans to return to his own home but goes to Nazareth instead. He believes it is not safe in Judea. Read the story in this manner and we might be reminded of the show Dragnet. Sergeant Friday is interviewing a witness and tells the witness he wants, the facts, just the facts. Reading the story in this manner can also lead us to the idea that God was cruel or wrong. God should have warned all of the parents of all of the male children to leave.
What if I was to say this story is not about the death of the children in Bethlehem? What if it is about God's saving of one child in the face of certain death? In other words a miracle occurs to save one when the odds are against any being saved at all. See, we tend to think of Jesus as the Son of God. As the Son of God he can heal people. He can raise people from the dead. He can do all sorts of powerful and wondrous things. One day he will come again in power and great glory. But not at this time in this story is Jesus this powerful savior.
In this story Jesus is a little child. His father and mother are peasants in an occupied land. They live or die at the whim of the present rulers of the day. Jesus is helpless if he is caught by Herod. Herod the Great was a cruel man. He was known for his harshness. He was not beyond killing anyone for his own personal gain. It is amazing that he only killed the male children. He could very well have killed all the children or killed everyone in the town. He was absolutely ruthless. The miracle is that Jesus survived.
Think about this for just a minute. The magi are supposed to follow the star to this new king. Instead of simply following the star, they stop at Herod's palace. After all, surely the king would know where this new king is. Shouldn't the child be of his heritage? Instead of finding the new king, they inadvertently tell the present king there is a threat to his throne. Herod plots with his advisors to find the child. He tries to use them to find Jesus so he can kill him. When this plan does not work he goes to plan two. If all of the male children are missing out of the town what do you think Herod would have done? He would have gone to plan three. We will never know how far he would have gone in order to kill Jesus. With this kind of despot ruling the country it is incredible that Jesus survived at all.
But God's plan will not be thwarted by human greed and ambition. Jesus survives to carry on his mission to the world. Jesus lives, preaches, teaches and dies willingly on a cross so our relationship with God might be restored. A miracle has happened here. The baby Jesus, unable to protect himself or his parents, is protected by God so the will of God may be fulfilled.
In today's world we tend not to believe in miracles. We try to explain everything away. We try to find the reasons behind everything. Sometimes there is no direct answer. In an earthquake in Mexico a town was destroyed. After seven days the searchers had given up all hope of finding anyone alive. Yet, on the eighth day while removing some rubble they found a woman alive. The rubble had fallen around her creating a small space. Water from a broken water main trickled in and she drank from it to prevent dehydration. In the San Francisco earthquake pieces of the bridge collapsed from the top layer to the bottom. One man is found alive in his crushed car. He has almost no injuries. As the top layer of the road was falling down he fell off the seat and under the dash. The pavement fell on the back of the car crushing it, but the front remained fairly intact.
During World War II, the Nazis were rounding up the Jews. In a small French town the local pastor decided to protect the Jewish people. In order to make this work, he used the teenagers and young adults of the town. They were divided into cells. No cell knew about the existence of another. The Jewish people were hidden in empty buildings throughout the town. The youth brought them food and necessities. Word got out that the town was a haven and other Jews running from the Nazis came to hide. They turned no one away. They hid them all. Near the end of the war the Nazis suspected the town of hiding Jewish people. The pastor, his brother and a few of the young adults lost their lives by standing up to this wicked regime. They did not find the Jewish people in hiding. When the war ended hundreds of lives had been saved.
Do miracles still happen? Does God still work in the world in order to fulfill his will? The answer is unequivocally yes. God does work in the world. God steps in and saves when the opportunity for saving seems bleak and impossible. Jesus survived because Joseph and Mary listened to the angel. Hundreds of Jewish people survived the holocaust because of the actions of a Christian pastor and his flock. People survive catastrophes in ways that are not easily explained. Miracles do happen in this world because we have a loving and caring God. A God who loves us so much that the Son was offered in our place in order to save us all.