Hosea 11:1-9, Matthew 2:10-23
December 27, 2009
The hardest part of the Christmas season, besides getting into the spirit in the first place, is keeping it going! Don’t you agree? The hardest part is keeping the “Christmas spirit” “the rest of the year.” After his transformation at the end of “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge was said to have been able to keep that spirit all year long. I’m sure we would all agree that we should do that, too. We should keep the spirit of Christmas, with it’s message of peace on earth and goodwill to men, through out the rest of the year. But how many actually do it?
I’m sure we’ve all heard stories – or we have stories of our own – about people who have a wonderful spirit at Christmas time, but who transform the other way from old Ebenezer and become “Scrooges” the rest of the year. Maybe you’re one of them! I think one of the most important things about Christmas is that it’s not just thinking about a wondrous story once a year, it is a transformation of the heart! Maybe that’s why I love Dickens’ story so much.
For me the hardest part of keeping the Christmas spirit is visual. The hardest part of the Christmas season for me is seeing it all “go away.” Yeah, I know sometimes doing it all can become burdensome. But once it’s all going full bore, and everything is up, and it looks so wonderful, I hate to see it taken down and put away. But it does. Whether or not we “keep the Christmas spirit,” there is a time when we start to put our Christmas lives away, and get “back to reality,” so to speak.
I don’t know if it happens around here, but when I was in Kansas, I used to see Christmas Trees lying out by the street with little vestiges of tinsel on them, before noon on Christmas Day! I’m not joking! It was so sad! And I used to see people driving their trees to the “Christmas tree dump” by the lake that day, too! Actually that dump was a good thing, because they would later sink those trees in the lake to provide shelter for hatchling fish! But again, some of the people were taking them there just after midday on Christmas day itself!
Now, I don’t know when you “undecorate,” but when you do take down your tree, doesn’t it seem sad? And doesn’t it seem like it’s too soon? It seems all too quickly we’re putting away the lights, the wreaths, the snowmen, the reindeer, the Santas, the nutcrackers, the candles, and the manger scenes! (That’s the saddest one!) And we find ourselves getting back to our “normal life.” – what I’m calling “back to reality.” “You can’t live in a Christmas fantasy world too long.” “You have to get back to the real world.”
That’s why I chose this passage from the end of Matthew 2. The glory and wonder of having a child, and much more so this child, was starting to fade. And there was still a reality to deal with. There was still a jealous king who was trying to find the child. And Joseph now had to protect this child from those harsh realities. And so, being “warned in a dream,” he took the child and his mother and fled to Egypt. I think Joseph was really brought “back to reality!” It wasn’t all that long, and now he was faced with another journey! And this time it wasn’t with a wife who was with child. This time he was to travel with a wife and an infant. (Feel free to insert your own “traveling with a baby” story here!)
When my kids were very little, I sometimes couldn’t afford to get direct flights to Philadelphia to visit family. So by myself, I used to take them, our suitcases and carry-ons and drive to Kansas City. Then the three of us would take a plane to some stopover city, run to the next plane, and fly into Baltimore. (Because it was cheaper) Once there, I would retrieve the bags, cart them and the kids to the bus station, and take that bus to the train station, and then ride Amtrak to Philadelphia. Once there, I’d grab the bags, the kids, and what was left of my frazzled nerves, hike across 30th street station. and somehow get the whole mess on a Septa train to Ambler. (If you were counting, that was 2 cars, two planes – sometimes 3 – a bus, and two trains!) I look back and I don’t know how I did it! So Joseph, I can sympathize with you – at least a little bit!
Joseph was brought back to reality, and so was the rest of his world. What follows is one of a number of stories in the Bible about “infanticide.” Whether we like it or not both the “Saviors” in the Old and New Testament had to be saved from someone who thought the means to control a population or limit their power was to eliminate their children! So this is really a “back to reality” story. In fact, this is a story that is so difficult that we often “skip over” it in the Christmas season.
But the reality is that it was part of this story. The reality is that the world can be a difficult place! And often there are those who prefer instead to “check out.” Do you remember that old play in the ‘60’s entitled “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off”? Doesn’t that describe so beautifully that feeling of wanting to get away from the difficulties of this life. We have to say often that “being a Christian doesn’t mean life will be without troubles.” We have to say it often because too many people want it to be that way. They would prefer that being Christian means that we escape from that reality. They would prefer it be a way to stop the world so they can get off.
We can say that the story of Christmas is all about that reality. The story of Herod not only belongs in there, but it is an integral part of the message! Because Christmas is about “Immanuel” – God with us. But it is God with us in the midst of all the “reality” of this life! And no matter what the pressures we face, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the tragedies, the God who made all things, and without whom “ was not anything made that was made” – that God, is with us!
So what are the “harsh realities” in your life? Do you long for the peace that all of us seem to have at least a little bit of at Christmas time? Do you truly wish that the “peace and goodwill” could last “all year round?” Think about it. The message of Christmas is that it does. Because the message is about God with you. Like that beautiful story of “Footsteps on the Beach,” there are times, when the realities of life seem the harshest, that God carries you!
I know sometimes it’s hard to recognize that. And I would tell you that one of the keys to recognizing it is to stop and seek to see it. Part of what Christmas is about is pausing and knowing that God is with us. The stories, the music, and the decorations help us with that. But the important thing is that we continue to do that, even when the world speeds back up again, or becomes “routine” again after the first of the year. Sometimes I think it’s “the routine” that makes it the hardest to recognize God in our lives.
So be intentional. That’s a word I like to use, if you haven’t noticed it by now! Be intentional. Make time to remember God with you! Even when you “go back to reality” keep in the forefront of your mind the message of peace and goodwill and grace. And if you need visual reminders, let me suggest that you don’t put your manger scene away with all the other decorations. Leave it up for a while. And look at it every once in a while. And think of the amazing story of God’s love for us.
Eternal God, we thank you for the incredible love you have for us, by which you sent your son into our world, so that we may be part of yours. Help us to know your spirit guiding us, and carrying us through the most difficult realities of this life. Help us to know your presence, and your joy, no matter what the circumstances. We praise you, and we offer ourselves to you, in Jesus’ name, Amen.