A sermon preached
Readings: Isa 60:1-6, Mt 2:13-23
When they had
gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.
Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him
Our reading today tells the familiar and grim story of the flight into Egypt.
King Herod has heard of the birth of Jesus from the Wise Men.
He becomes fearful that the Christchild will be a threat to his power
and so seeks to have him and to be sure,
he sets about killing all boys under 2 years old.
Matthew draws a parallel with the time 700 years before
when the Assyrians had organized mass deportations of Israelites from Israel –
massive piece of what we would now call ethnic cleansing.
On that day Rachel, the mother of the tribes, wept at Rama.
Now, says Matthew,
she weeps again as her people are again put to flight.
But Joseph is warned in a dream,
and so the Holy Family escape as refugees to Egypt.
What does this story say to us?
there is a striking image of Christmas painted by Sebastiano Del Piombo.
The picture shows Jesus being wrapped in his mother’s cloak.
At first sight it is a typical Christmas card picture.
Closer examination reveals that Jesus is holding something –
determinedly and sadly hanging onto it, as though he is saying
“You can’t have it – it is mine!”
Mary’s concern is understandable when we see what Jesus is holding –
it is a Goldfinch.
A common enough pet in 16th C Italy,
but as Del Piombo also knew, a symbol of death.
Behind the Madonna and child is a double background –
to one side you can glimpse over Mary’s shoulder a sunny hillside.
But the infant Christ is twisting around to look
towards the other side of the picture –
where the background is all dark.
away from the sun and towards the gathering gloom.
And the picture, with the clutched goldfinch,
reflects the truth of the nativity story as we find it in St Matthew’s Gospel.
No sooner is the joy and the celebration
of the angels and the manger over
than the darkness of Herod and his world reappears.
The wise men and holy family must both return by other routes,
for that is the dark world of which they remain a part.
For the babe of Bethlehem has come for the world
dark storm clouds gather
– he has come for the Herods and modern day dictators and paramilitaries of the world
and their victims,
and for that reason he is to be part of the dark world as much as the light.
And what about us?
We, like Christ, stand before a world of sunny vistas and dark clouds.
¨ For some this Christmas has been
a time of undiluted joy –
meeting up with family and friends, relaxing, singing and festive cheer.
¨ For others of us it has been
a very mixed time –
every happy thought counterbalanced with fears for the future
or loss of what might have been.
As we leave Christmas behind, we return from the manger.
Some of us go back with the shepherds rejoicing in what we have seen and heard.
go by another route,
anxiously watching the horizon for the enemies in the hills around.
Matthew’s message is this:
and it is a message for this and every Christmastide –
It doesn’t matter which route yours may be.
There is no route forced on us -
be it by bereavement or pain –
that Christ has not picked his way through before us
on his way from the stable to the cross.
And of course out thoughts this week have been with the people of the Indian Ocean.
Ten of thousands of Rachels, weeping again in Rama for their lost children.
What do we offer them in their hour of need –
first I guess we offer our love and concern –
and translate that love and concern where we can into money.
you haven’t had a chance yet to contribute to the Disaster Appeal,
we raised a lot this morning and there is a chance to give again tonight as you leave.
together with our love and money and prayers,
we offer too the hope and comfort of the Gospel –
A Gospel which says
¨ that whatever our journey in life may be this Christmastide,
¨ however dark the thunderclouds may be overhead,
¨ though Herod himself chase us back to Egypt itself,
We shall be called to travel no darker road than has been travelled by Christ before us.
And you know, when life is really hard,
when you are right down in the gutter,
when you are standing on the beach with the tidal wave crashing over you
that is when we need to hear the Gospel –
it is not the sanitised story of cotton wool angels
and clean and tidy shepherds that we need to hear,
but the dark and dirty story of the real incarnation.
A story which tells us of a Christ
travelling with us to the depths
and then lifting us to the skies.
may we know and celebrate the Christ
fled towards the storm clouds of Egypt,
en route from a stable to a cross,
may we share him and his love with all our brothers and sisters
over whom the storm clouds gather.