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    Jan 19, 2020

    Tell Me the Stories of Jesus: Jesus as an Infant

    Tell Me the Stories of Jesus:  Jesus as an Infant

    Passage: Matthew 2:13-23

    Speaker: Vivian McCarthy

    Fundamentally, our Lord's message was Himself. He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He himself is that Gospel. He did not come merely to give bread; He said, "I am the bread." He did not come merely to shed light; He said, "I am the light." He did not come merely to show the door; He said, "I am the door." He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said, "I am the shepherd." He did not come merely to point the way; He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." ~J. Sidlow Baxter

    The two stories in the Bible about Jesus’ life as an infant are among the most challenging in the entire canon to connect, or in the language of some, “harmonize.”  That word, “harmonize” has been used by people who wanted to be able to lay out the biblical stories like a timeline.  The accounts in Luke and Matthew leave some gaping holes in terms of chronology and require some further research and perhaps some imagination to figure it all out.  These kinds of gaps or differences make harmonization very difficult, if not impossible.

    For our purposes today, I’ll give you the really short version.  Joseph and Mary followed the Mosaic Law – the Torah – in both after-childbirth purification and presentation of their son to God in the Temple in Jerusalem.  That likely took place about 40 days after Jesus’ birth.  Luke says in verse 39:  When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 

    Put a little pause there and an asterisk in your brain.  A reasonable question may be:  is verse 39 the end of the presentation story, or is it an indication Luke uses it as a literary device to span a time gap?  Scholars do not all answer that question the same way. 

    Moving on, just as Luke’s story doesn’t say anything about the Magi, Matthew’s story doesn’t say anything about the presentation at the Temple, and on top of that, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the geography of the two stories. 

    Matthew’s story of the Magi has Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and then Matthew sends the Holy Family to Egypt to escape Herod’s murder of the children.  I didn’t ask the worship leader to read the rest of this story because I thought it would be more helpful to hear it now.  Matthew 2:19-23 reads this way:

    19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up,” the angel said, “and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” 21 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus ruled over Judea in place of his father Herod, Joseph was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he went to the area of Galilee. 23 He settled in a city called Nazareth so that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: He will be called a Nazarene.

     

    Matthew says that Joseph and Mary couldn’t go to “the land of Israel.”  Israel was no small town – it was much more comparable to the US and the states.  Look at the map found at https://www.conformingtojesus.com/images/webpages/israel_at_the_time_of_jesus_christ_1.png

    At this time in Israel, “the land of Israel” refers to this whole area, with the different regions in colors to offset them.  The implication in the text is that Joseph was going to take his family back to Bethlehem in Judah but wound up going north to Nazareth. 

    Remember – Matthew and Luke were telling the story from 2 distinct perspectives and had distinct purposes for how the story was told.  Does it matter that we can’t make the two connect seamlessly?  Honestly, to me it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t make the stories less true or less accurate.  It adds dimension, including dimension in terms of meaning and truth.  It’s not either/or.  It’s much wider and much deeper than that.

    What is important here?  Is it whether there are inaccuracies or whether one school of thought is right and another is wrong?  Or is it important to read the stories with an eye to what it can say to us today – to read the stories in a way that makes it possible to discern what God is saying now?

    I think most of you know how I would answer those questions. 

    There are intersections in these stories with life and faith in 2020.  These are just three:

    • Mary and Joseph followed their faith’s foundational practices to set their son on the path to faith in God.
    • Joseph felt that his family would be in danger if they stayed in what Matthew felt was their home. So he sought a better – a safer – place for them to live and grow.
    • Simeon and Anna witnessed to the powerful role that Jesus would play in the history of the world – based on their own deep, abiding faith, a faith that grew and developed within their faith community throughout their lives.

    This morning, we welcomed two infant boys into the family of faith.  Their parents have all shared their deep desire to set their boys on a path of faith, and we as a congregation promised that we will do our dead level best to support them in that. 

    The sacrament of baptism is not protection against these precious children being refused entry to heaven.  It is a witness to the wide open, loving, grace-filled arms of God.  It is a proclamation of what God has done and will do for these children and each and every one of God’s children.  It is a proclamation of God’s deepest desire for us to live lives of grace and hopeful abundance – not necessarily lives prosperity, but the abundant life that only comes through the peace that passes understanding and the amazing grace that just doesn’t always make sense to humans.  It is a proclamation that God’s got this – God’s got us no matter what, even when things are tough or when the way ahead is unclear or dark.  In the hands of God, life is good.

    As I was reflecting on the texts for today and on, to be honest, on the state of the church, including declining attendance, I was gripped by a memory.

    One of my seminary professors was pushing us.  She was teaching us about designing worship that engages and relates, and someone had brought up Halloween – not in a good way.  The student was concerned about even mentioning Halloween – isn’t it equated with devil worship?

    The professor talked about the development of Halloween and All Hallows Eve which was great.  But the image that gripped me was when she was talking about reclaiming the power of our faith and not shrinking away from cultural conversations or assuming that all cultural practices are bad – or worse, allowing the depth of religious practices to be misunderstood as she showed Halloween to be.  By the way – she traced the faith-full roots of Halloween which I won’t go into today, debunking the devil worship myths.

    She reminded us of movies from around the 1940’s.  Most of us failed to see what she was getting at.  She asked us something like, “When there is evil afoot, what does the hero reach out for?”  The hero or heroine holds up a cross for protection – and the threatening being/person literally cowers in fear.  The message?  No matter what, the power of the cross overcomes everything.  The hope we have through Jesus Christ is the ultimate power for life abundant right now and into eternity.

    It is in that power and assurance that Christians live, move, and have our being.

    Whether it’s scripture or sacrament or worship, the power to live lives of faith comes from Jesus Christ and our dependence on Jesus for direction – for our salvation – for the ability to look beyond our personal interpretations and traditions to hear a Word from the Lord – and then to witness to the power of faith in our own lives – not as the only way to see things or to do things but as a witness to how in the world we live through it all when things get all tangled up and as a witness to how living with our faith family helps us to grow in our wisdom and understanding of God.

    Anna and Simeon recognized the Messiah when a small baby was presented at the Temple where they had waited and waited and waited.  How?  They learned from their faith family.  Their faith was shaped and informed by practicing their faith so they could take it to heart and find meaning.  Their community helped them to learn and ask questions, so on that day, they were ready.  Sure enough, they heard a word from the Lord and discerned the meaning of what they saw.

    Joseph and Mary quietly acted (on more than one occasion) to remove Jesus from danger.  How?  They heard a word from the Lord.  That Word thrust them out from their comfort zones on more than one occasion.  Their faith allowed them – or perhaps it prompted them – to think in a way that took into account what the faithful thing was and then to act in such a way that was sometimes scandalous to their faith community.  But such was the power of faith in their lives.  It had substance and power.  The faith of Mary and Joseph was so strong that they could think outside the box and live deeply faithful lives when it counted the most.  It was a faith that required risk and difficult decisions.  And theirs was a faith that birthed astonishing, incredible, miraculous life for every single one of us and God’s beloved children.

    PRAYER:  God, teach us again to recognize the power of faith and to witness in the world how the power of Jesus makes life worth living!  Amen.