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Comings and Goings
December 29, 2013
Now 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.’ 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 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. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘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.’
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.’
T: We cannot contain Christ; God will go beyond our limits.
N: We need to believe that God can do more
M: We cannot get so caught up in trying to put Christ into a box.
Just in case you thought that there wasn’t enough war. Just in case you thought that there was too much peace on earth. Just in case you thought: I’m so bored, I really wish we could have another controversy. Well, here’s the war on Christmas. Megyn Kelley of Fox News is reported as saying that Santa Claus and Jesus were white men. In some other statements, it appears as though people are equating Santa Claus with St. Nicholas, claiming that Santa was a historical figure. It’s true that St. Nikolas was an actual priest in the 4th century from ancient Greece, now modern-day Turkey. His wealthy parents died when he was young, and he was raised by an uncle. He was present at the Council of Nicaea, and signed the Nicene Creed, which we still recite today, opposing all of those who believe that Jesus Christ is subject to God. He religiously fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. He did have a reputation for secret gift-giving. You know, like we all do: putting coins in people’s shoes that leave them out for the saint to see. This actual historical figure who helped people in need, was then morphed into the fictional character of Sinterklaas in The Netherlands. The story of St. Nicholas mixed with the story of Odin, a Germanic god who had a gray horse and would ride on rooftops, and so on and so forth, until in North America, we started putting presents into socks, not shoes, and putting out milk and cookies for Santa instead of hay and carrots for Sinterklaas’s horse. Obviously our modern-day Santa Claus forgot that he was to be fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, since his belly now jiggles like a bowl full of jelly. It’s understandable that symbols change and morph over 1700 years. It’s understandable that Santa needs to go on a diet like most of the rest of us, and it’s understandable that Santa is joyous during this time of year. Who isn’t? The beauty of this season of giving would make anyone, even a 4th century priest, crack a smile, but believing fervently that symbols have to be a certain way, well that’s just not like us.
Christ came unexpectedly. Christ came in a rush, on a donkey, to a single mom who was engaged, in the middle of census-taking. He came in a stable, his baby presence caused a genocide. We are a people that live in the unexpected manger. We are the people that perk our ears each year to hear with expectation the story we know better than our own. We listen again and again that this wasn’t supposed to happen this way, that God does not have tiny fingers and wisps of hair. God should have come the way that we expected, but God never does. And each year, we know that the Christ child will be born at the Christmas pageant, but we don’t know how our children will interpret that story. We didn’t know that there were flying sheep at the manger or 30 angels watching, some with purple wings and some with white, some with their finger in their noses. We did not know that the head angel was a little girl or that adults needed to keep the shepherds in line. We did not know that gold frankincense and myrrh were wrapped in tin foil to keep them safe. We did not know that angels, who were tired of standing on the chancel steps, would come down and touch little baby Jesus’ nose and giggle while everyone else sang “What Child is This?” We did not know that this story could be good news again. It was unexpected. It was beautiful. But the truth still remains: the baby was born in unlikely circumstances, the angels were there, the shepherds came, the wise men came from the East, and Jesus was unexpected and beautiful. He is just what we needed.
I don’t see too many adversaries for Santa other than naughty children, which apparently cause him to not be able to do his job. But Christ must overcome a huge amount of expectations and fears, and Herod, the original perpetrator of the War on Christmas. For in the midst of the warm glow of the Nativity scene, after all the presents were ready to be transported back to Nazareth, the Roman Empire caught the Messianic wind from Bethlehem, and Herod became afraid. His power looked as though it might crumble under his feet because of a baby. Even if Herod did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the symbol was enough. The symbol of the possibility of the loss of power was enough. The symbol was enough for him to issue a decree to kill all of the babies in the area under the age of two. The symbol was enough for him to send our Messiah as a refugee to another country until the tyrant Herod died. And the irony is that Jesus was not a threat at all to Herod. He was a baby. He didn’t come to overthrow the government or to take a throne that was not his. Christ came to save us from the tyrants, to be an Egypt for us all, to be our refuge when the dominating culture will not allow us to have anything but Monday eyes. Those Monday eyes where we look for efficiency over meaning. When the cups of coffee outweigh the cup of salvation. When the glow of the iPhone is stronger than the glow of the candle. When the presents under the tree are stronger than the symbols of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When peace on earth seems like a distant dream and goodwill toward all is replaced with the video game: Grand Theft Auto 3, it is difficult to see how we can find a place to flee toward. It is hard to find a place of hope, peace, joy, and love that we prayed for fervently during Advent.
Symbols cover our churches. They mean different things at different times. We uncover holy truths behind these symbols each week. Having symbols is inefficient. Our procession should really not exist because we could just have everyone come and sit in their seats before the worship service. Our Chrismon tree takes hours to put together and is not time effective. Our candles really serve no practical purpose because we have electric lights. But we see beyond the symbol. We see beyond the symbols of our dominating culture. We do not have to assume that Santa is white simply because that appears to be the dominating culture. We see beyond the efficiency that runs our lives from Monday through Saturday. People of God are not efficient because they see that the world running faster and faster trying to grab more and more is not the highest value. Through our beautification, we see Christ show up. Through our procession we welcome Christ as victorious over death. Through our Chrismons, we announce Christ as particular. Through our candles, we honor the mystery of how God can be Three in One. Light enters differently here. And the shepherds are the everyday working people who come and go from the nativity scene. And the angels represent the heavenly realm announcing this good news even in places that are mysterious to us. And the wise men from the east remind us that this news stretches beyond whatever box we want to place God in. It reminds us of the new day dawning, the great gifts for God and of God come from the east, the place of the sun’s resurrection, the place of our resurrection. But we have to look and see without our Monday eyes, we have to see something beyond the symbol itself. “Oh that’s a nice banner. Oh that’s a pretty song,” are fine for Monday. “That banner reminds me that Christ sprung out of the root of Jesse and should be rooted in my life and family tree as well,” is better for Sunday. And if your symbols for your life only consist of a large white man in a red suit who consumes cookies as his source of nourishment, who hides in the shadows and does not enter in to your lives but once a year, then I would encourage you to look at the symbols of the Christ-child who becomes incarnate not for his own sake, but for the sake of the world.
We weren’t ready; Christ came unexpectedly. And we will circle back to this moment again next year, where it will be all too familiar and all too unexpected. And the symbols we have here will call us ever forward to flee from the oppressive systems that claims to have power over our lives, to call us to lives of peace and goodwill toward all people. And in our New Year’s Resolutions, may we flee from those things that wish to take us over, and welcome the good gifts of God. When our Sunday eyes then create new worlds for our Monday eyes, may we see the world differently: as a big Table filled with people that we invite to a great banquet. For we pray that Christ is born in each of us: white men, Asian women, young African girls, and preteen boys, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. So that we don’t spend our time arguing the symbol, but realizing the holy truth behind it: Christ came to save us, with tiny hands and wisps of hair.
How can see change our Sunday eyes into Monday eyes?
Our interpretations are insufficient to fully grasps the eternity behind the symbol.
The church is not the only place where we recognize these symbols.