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Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day 15

Posted on 28 Dec 2015, Preacher: Dena Williams
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(Have a seat, relax, are you ready for a story?)
In the time of one of the King Herods of history,
a couple years after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
there are wise men living in the East.
The wise men are astrologers, not kings at all, of course,
but astrologers who witness an unusual event in the heavens.
The wise men, the Bible doesn’t tell us how many,
but some wise men come to King Herod in the city of Jerusalem and ask,
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?
We observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him honor.”
When King Herod hears this,
he is frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.
He is afraid because the wise men bring him news of another king, a newborn king.
King Herod, calls together all the chief priests and scribes of the people.
King Herod asks the priests and scribes,
“Where is the Messiah, the long hoped for Messiah of the Jews,
where is he to be born?”
The priests and scribes tell him,
“The prophets have written—the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem of Judea.”
Bethlehem is a small, rural village, of course, but the prophets wrote:
“You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers and towns of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly calls for the wise men and learns from them the exact time when the star appeared.
He sends the wise men to Bethlehem, saying,
“Go and search diligently for the child;
and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and honor him.”
Ha!
When the wise men hear the king,
they set out.
Do they ride camels? The Bible doesn’t say! Seriously!
But there, ahead of them, goes the star they saw at its rising.
The star stops over the place where the child is living.
When they see the star has stopped,
they are overwhelmed with joy.
Upon entering the house,
they see the child with Mary his mother;
and they kneel down and pay him honor.
Then, opening their treasure chests, they offer the child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
They are warned in a dream not to return to King Herod.
The wise men leave for their country by another road.
Now after they leave, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and says,
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt. Remain there until I tell you;
for King Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Joseph gets up, takes the little boy and his mother by night, and goes to Egypt.
The family remains there until the death of King Herod.
This is to fulfill what was also spoken by the Lord through the prophet,
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod sees he was tricked by the wise men, he is infuriated,
and he sends and kills all the children in and around Bethlehem who are two years old or under,
according to the time of the child’s birth,
as he learned it from the wise men.
Then is fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
wailing and loudly lamenting.
It is Rachel weeping for her children;
she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When King Herod dies,
an angel of the Lord suddenly appears in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and says,
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.”
Joseph gets up, takes the young child and his mother, and goes to the land of Israel.
But when he hears that Archelaeus is ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod,
Joseph is afraid to go there.
After being warned in yet another dream,
he takes his family and goes away to the district of Galilee.
There, Joseph makes his home in a town called Nazareth,
so that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene.”
The Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you, O Christ
A mother, father, and small child live in Bethlehem, a rural village in their homeland,
in a house near where their child was born.
An evil, powerful man who rules in their country sends his henchman to the village to terrorize the people.
The father hears of the evil man’s plan to kill children in the village.
The family flees in the dark for their very lives.
They travel at night and sneak across a border into a foreign land.
They live in the foreign land until they hear the evil ruler is dead.
They travel once more, heading back for their homeland.

I was a stranger, a young boy, a refugee, fleeing terrorism with my family,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

As they cross the border, seeking the safety of home, they hear how the evil man’s son is now in power.
They are on the road again.
They cross yet another border,
and settle in a rural village.
Bethlehem,
Egypt,
Judea,
Galilee,
Nazareth—
a terrified family runs from a murderous tyrant, flees for their lives!
Syria,
Turkey,
across the Mediterranean sea in an overloaded rubber raft,
Greece,
Macedonia,
Serbia,
Hungary,
Austria—
a terrified family flees 1600 miles from their terrorized homeland;
along with tens of thousands of others, fleeing for their lives!
Guatemala,
Mexico City,
Nogales,
walking the hot sands of Arizona’s burning, deadly desert,
Phoenix,
Denver—
people flee the violence and poverty of their homeland;
desperate tens of thousands head North,
jump a cargo train, travel hundreds of miles with children and meager belongings, running toward opportunity for a better life.
Terrified families flee for their lives.
Ever have the dream?
The nightmare where someone dangerous is chasing you?
You suddenly can’t run—you legs turn to jelly.
Then you try to call for help on your cell phone, but you can’t enter the correct numbers.
Oh, and by the way, to make matters worse, you’re naked in the dream, aren’t you?!
Isn’t that the worst part?!
The danger is coming closer and closer—you begin to twitch and stifled screams escape from your dream.
You’re terrified!
Your partner shakes you gently by the shoulder
or you startle yourself awake.
It takes several minutes for your heart to stop pounding,
to catch your breath,
to figure out you’re safe at home.
The nightmare is over.
The nightmare ends for the holy family only when they finally find a home in Nazareth.
A place where they can begin to rebuild their lives—
to work, and worship, and know the welcome of home coming.
I hope their new neighbors are kind and caring,
help them find food, clothing, shelter, a community of faith.
I think they do.
I hope Joseph, and Mary, and Jesus find a measure of peace in this place.
I hope the citizens of Nazareth overcome their suspicions and fear,
offer deep hospitality to this little family of refugees,
who flee for their lives.
I think they do. I think they do.
I think Mary and Joseph and Jesus find welcome, loving community, a home.
For in Luke’s Gospel, we find another story about this refugee family.
The story takes place several years later;
the boy, Jesus, is now 12 years old.
As is usual every year, his parents go from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Passover.
When the festival ends
many people from Nazareth, including Mary and Joseph, traveling together with their community,
set out to return home.
The boy Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents don’t know!
They assume Jesus is somewhere in the group of travelers.
At the end of the first day of travel,
Mary and Joseph look for him among their friends and family.
He’s not there!
When they do not find him,
they return to Jerusalem to search for him.
Finally three days later,
they find Jesus in the temple.
He sits with the teachers,
listening and asking questions.
Everyone who hears him is amazed at his understanding and answers.
When his parents see him, they are astonished.
His Mother, Mary, says to him,
“Child, why have you treated us like this?
Your father and I searched for you for three days!
We were worried sick!”
Jesus said to his parents,
“Why were you searching for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
They did not understand, at all!
Then, Jesus went with Mary and Joseph,
home to Nazareth,
and he was obedient to his parents.
His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Jesus increased in wisdom and in years.
He grew in favor,
both divine and human.
This story from Luke’s Gospel tells of parents who so trusted their community, they traveled for an entire day,
unconcerned about their child’s welfare.
They were surrounded, you see, by people who welcomed them, loved and cared for them.
I do think this refugee family was welcomed and embraced by the people of Nazareth.
I also think the boy Jesus long remembers the welcome of the people of Nazareth to him and his family.
For later in this very Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus speak:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in a detention center and you visited me.”

I was a stranger, a young boy, a refugee, fleeing terrorism with my family,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
Amen