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  • Dr. Bruce Havens

go tell who? what? where?

a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.

December 29, 2019

Matthew 2:13-23 NRSV

13Now after they had left, 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.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and 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.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“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.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But 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. 23There 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.”


Lou Holtz, famous for being a football coach at Notre Dame, as well as at other places. The story goes that Notre Dame – a Catholic University - was supposed to play a game on Christmas Day one time and a reporter asked him if it was hard having to play a game on Christmas Day and he said, “Why should it be? I mean after the 10- minutes it takes to open the presents that morning, what else is there? Otherwise it is the most boring day of the year!” Well, said, Lou! True Christian sentiment, right?

So, if I ask the questions: “Go? Go where?” “Tell? Tell what?” “It? What it? The news or some unnamed “it”?” “On a mountain? Really?” Why? We may have had 10 minutes of joy or at least some level of satisfaction Christmas morning, but did anyone here really have an experience worth shouting from the mountaintops? After all, as soon as the day is over, or before, we are right back where we were before with all the problems, all the world-wide challenges, sadness, tragedy and injustice. There are all our own personal problems with relationships, credit card debt, health worries and the like. Does God really need us to go running off somewhere to tell everyone Jesus was born?

Now, you may have noticed our Scripture lesson is probably not on your usual Christmas list of readings. This story is one we don’t talk a lot about in Christmas circles as it isn’t nearly as ideal or romantic as the other parts of the traditional Christmas story. Some might not want to consider that the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, our Lord and Savior, was a refugee in a foreign country – that’s not a politically popular notion in our current anti-refugee, anti-immigrant climate. But there it is, in the Bible. But be that as it may, we often would prefer to ignore the messy political realities that the Bible speaks about and stick the “spiritual” stuff as if the two can be separated.

Our story this morning is pushed along by the incredibly horrible behavior of Herod. Herod is one of our favorite whipping boys in Christian lore, but the Scriptures don’t even record half of what history tells us he did. He held his position because Caesar allowed him to, and as long as Caesar allowed him to. But Herod was so horrible he even shocked Caesar. Historians tell us that when Herod came to power he had the entire Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish religion, murdered. He also famously murdered two of his own sons. Caesar himself said, “It is safer to be a pig in a parent’s household than to be a son in Herod's court." (In Latin, Caesar is making a play on words which doesn’t come through very well in English.)

Just to make it even more clear what kind of crazy King Herod was, when he was near death, knowing that he would not be mourned, he ordered dozens of executions to take place right before his death so that there would at least be mourners in the city. The order, fortunately for three hundred or so of Jerusalem’s citizens, was not carried out. Matthew’s purpose is to lift up this truth about Herod, that he was a power-mad murderer, and associate him in peoples’ minds with Pharaoh who had tried to kill all the male babies of his slaves, the Hebrew people.[1]

The Scriptures tell us that when the “Wise Men,” [ a loose term that may have meant astrologers or scholars from other civilizations, we are not sure ], came looking for someone recently born who was to be “King of the Jews” they showed themselves to be rather unwise. They went to the current king, Herod, and inquired where they might find the next king. That’s about as silly a thing to do as asking the current President who he would vote for as the next President. Herod was of course enraged to hear such a thing and asked the “Magi” to help him find this baby so he could “go and worship him too!” Of course, Herod wanted to kill this potential usurper of his throne! The Scriptures tell us that when he found out the “Magi” had not done as he asked he became more enraged and ordered the killing of all the male babies “in and around Bethlehem.” Wasn’t enough to stick to the city limits of the City of David.

Well, where does all this bloodshed and craziness and such leave us? None of the Gospel writers tell a story just to tell a story. There is a point to it all, each and every part. Matthew is tying Jesus’ story to Moses’ story. Again and again by what he tells and the way he tells us about Jesus’ life he is intending to communicate that Jesus is the new Moses for the Hebrew people and even better. He has come to save his people, to liberate them spiritually and politically and religiously. The powers of Caesar, and Herod, and ultimately Pilate and the crowd that turned against him would not prevent Jesus from fulfilling God’s purpose – to save us from those who would claim to be gods and who would claim to do evil in the name of God. Caesars and Pharaohs and Herods may do their evil. Pol Pots and Hitlers and other dictators may cause untold human suffering but that suffering does not go unnoticed by the one, true, real God. That was the message God spoke to Moses, the message God gave the prophets to take to the kings of Israel before Jesus when they did what was unjust and evil in God’s sight, and it was ultimately the message Jesus brought when the told people the Kingdom of God was at hand. Even the mighty power of Caesar, king of the world at that time, and self-proclaimed god ultimately fail. He executed the true Son of God, the true King of Kings but even his power over death and murder and evil could not defeat God’s purpose.

The Bible tells us again and again that those who do what is evil in God’s sight will be defeated, whether they are leaders of nations or, religious leaders, or just common everyday people like you and me. This is the good news for our day and every day. There have always been those who use power for evil and while they may have their day, the Bible assures us again and again, that God hears the cries of those who are oppressed, those who are treated unjustly, those who are abused by the powers of others and that God does act. God does not just hear and impotently watch. God does act. Sometimes it is in small unnoticed ways, like warning a person at risk to leave the place where their lives are at risk so that they will be there to do what God needs them to do in God’s time, in God’s way.

Many Christians think God is only about spiritual things, as if spiritual things were somehow different from human things. The Bible reminds us over and over God is the God of ALL things – all of creation. God is God of critters and God of humans and God of everything. There is nowhere God is not God and nothing God is not able to do to bring God’s vision to fulfillment. The Bible affirms that God is Spirit but that does not mean God does not act in history, through people. The very fact that God is Spirit should remind us that “spiritual” things includes everything, for God is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of everything. As we hear these words about wicked Kings and see that God acted to prevent harm to the one who was more than King of the Jews, we can look toward the future with hope and with faith that God will continue to act, to judge, to bring forth salvation for all of creation.

That is something to go and tell on the mountaintops, and in the valleys, along the Rio Grande and in the decaying slums of northwest Jacksonville. It is a something to announce in Ponte Vedra and Washington, and from L.A. to Kennebunkport. God is King and there is no other. God acted to send his Savior to the world. God is the God of history and of human actions and God hears and acts when people suffer and when people cry out. Go and tell it on the mountain. God is here. God is Immanuel. God is with us. That’s a message for the mountaintops and the lowest places on earth. That’s not boring, it’s Christmas for real. AMEN.

[1], Dec. 21, 2010.

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