Where to begin? That is always the dilemma in preaching AFTER such an amazing story as the birth of Jesus. There is nothing that can top that story. Yet, the birth is not the end, it is the beginning and continuation of a greater story—God’s story of His creation of which we play a major role. So, let’s get started
The gospel of Matthew designates Jesus as the Son of God and lines him up with Moses the prophet who would deliver Israel through a new exodus. “There is nothing sentimental about Matthew’s “Christmas story”. It is set in the turbulence and terror of a violent history. Herod kills babies, families flee in the middle of the night. No shepherds come to see the wonder, and no heavenly host sings “Alleluias”. Instead, there is a provident God over all who guides a devout and compassionate, dreaming and trusting father so that a child will be able to grow to become the Savior of his people and for generations to come. Matthew writes so that we might to come see Jesus’ birth as renewed hope.
Matthew tells the story of Jesus born a refugee. He tells us that after the Kings had left, in a dream Joseph was warned by an angel to get out of Bethlehem because Herod was searching for the child to destroy him, so he took Mary and the baby to Egypt, back to the land God delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh. Matthew tells the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, just the three of them facing the terrors of a brutal despot. No visitors, no sheltering barn. No cuddly looking on of sheep. No friendly oxen. No manger. No country and no home. Now we know what Matthew meant when he wrote, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (8:20)
The church doesn’t tell that part of the story enough. We haven’t told how God came to be with us in our distress and darkness. Caught up in the craziness of ‘Christmas’ we have missed the real story of a Messiah who comes to be with millions of refugees seeking a home that is safe to live. The estimated number of Syrians killed since 2011 equals 450,000. 4.8 million Syrians have fled the country during the conflict. 6.3 million are displaced within Syria, no home. 6,150 people displaced per day from January to August 2016, alone. 1 million people live in collective shelters, camps or makeshift settlements. 13.5 million people require humanitarian aid (food, water, meds). Germany under the leadership of Angelou Merkel, took in 1.8 million refugees, and Turkey topped that by taking in 2.5 million. The US took in 10,000. According to Matthew, Germany and Turkey are “Persons of the Year.”
By this time every year, Christians have put Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the rest of the crèche away. Every figure has been wrapped securely, and placed in boxes to be safe until next year. But, safe is never the place that Jesus came to be. “…the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” It is to the suffering that God came. God’s presence is our only comfort and hope, always.
The church must tell this story because people are suffering in the pews and all over the world. So, let’s get started.
Rev. Beverly Kelly is the stated supply pastor of Mattoon Presbyterian Church, our sister church and one of our mission partners located in downtown Greenville, SC.