A flyer came in the mail at home yesterday. Before I tossed it into the recycling, I took a look. On one side it read, ‘This piece of mail could change your life forever’. I flipped it over and saw pictures of sincere, happy faces along with the promise that you’d experience ‘friendly people, engaging music, relevant and practical messages and fun for kids.’ It’s an announcement of the start of a new church that the flier says will be ‘full of real people, living in a real world, serving a real God’. The flier feels a little prepackaged and glitzy to me. But my guess is that the people who are starting this new church are sincere and passionate. What they’re trying to do isn’t easy. There’s a lot of competition out there for peoples’ time and attention so who can blame them for trying to grab your eye and to turn a few heads with their flier. So, God bless them, I say. Making a new beginning is hard. It’s a big risk. It takes heart and hope and determination.
I think the reason I found myself lingering over this flier is that, as Bob Hetherington reminded us last Sunday, the season of Epiphany is the season of a new beginning. In Epiphany we remember how the love of God in the face of Jesus and the world met each other for the first time as Jesus began his public ministry. And it seems to begin on a wing and a prayer at best. There was no big roll out, no angel choirs, no big opening event. He just, begins. When two people find their feet following him for reasons they would probably have been hard pressed to explain. As John tells it, Jesus was just walking by and John the Baptist says, ‘behold, the Lamb of God’, and two of those who’d been following John follow Jesus. Jesus turns and sees them. And the first words out of his mouth to them are, ‘what are you looking for?’ Which you can hear as either a really, really deep question or something a little more straight forward. And the two men took the more straight forward approach with a question of their own, ‘where are you staying?’ And Jesus simply replies, ‘come and see’. You have to decide for ourself.
Which for all the pizzazz of the glossy flier for the new church is probably all they’re saying too, ‘come and see’.
By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
I heard that last Sunday while I was away, Bob Hetherington laid down a challenge for me in his sermon. He mentioned the part of today’s story from the Flight into Egypt that has been omitted by the lectionary. It’s the story of the Massacre of the Innocents. It is only three verses that have been picked out. And they are three of the most brutal verses contained in our story of God’s love.
I’ve heard of other sermon challenges, like giving someone a crazy word or phrase to figure out how to incorporate into the sermon like aluminum siding or castor oil. This one is harder. But in my time with Bob Hetherington I have learned to listen to his words carefully because his wisdom is Spirit-led and powerful. So here I go.
In the start of today’s story, Joseph has been warned in a dream to get Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem. Herod was searching for them and they were in grave danger. It’s unclear exactly how long they had been in Bethlehem when they leave. But Joseph acts and is ready to care for his family.
Now here is where the part that’s left out in today’s Gospel reading falls. It fits in just after the gospel cites the prophet Hosea’s words, “Out of Egypt I have called my son”.
Verses 16-18 of the 2nd Chapter of Matthew read…
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all the region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by 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 were no more.”
It is so good to be together in this beautiful place with friends and family, with people you’ve known for ever and a day, and with people you’ve never seen before. And every one of you with your own story and with all of its twists and turns that have brought each of us and all of us together tonight. This is probably the first time ever that this particular group of us have ever been together in exactly this way. And I suspect it is also the very last time that we will ever be together like this. So give thanks for this time that we get to be together.
And it is good for us to be here in our church. It is warm and neat as a pin. The lights of the candles are glowing. The altar guild has shined and pressed and arranged everything for us tonight to be a feast for our eyes. The choir is rehearsed and has tuned their voices to their hearts to inspire our own hearts to sing out with them and with the angels.
In this warm comforting happy place, this night, we are here for something so important. We are joining together on this night with the Church all over the world to hear again the story of the birth of Jesus. It is the story that tells all that we can say that is most true about God and what is also most true about each of us. On this night, a night just like this, heaven and earth are joined and the heart of God and God’s desire and purpose for this world find perfect expression in the face of a new born baby. And with this birth is the holy promise that God has, and is, and will be working his purposes out, and at every moment that purpose is to heal the whole human family. The whole human family. Grace by grace. Christ is born for this, even on this very night, God is working his purposes out. So, we are here ‘go even unto Bethlehem to see this great thing’.