Christmas Stories –
A Sermon on Matthew 2:13-23
Maybe by now, you have learned that I love stories. Not just any story though…it has to be a good one. You know, one with characters that could be your best friends, with a plot line that leaves you turning pages late into the night.
Growing up it was the stories of Christopher Robin wandering off into that great forest to meet his friend Pooh, tales of four Boxcar children who went on adventures and solved mysteries in their little town, travels in that great land Narnia with the lion Aslan.
Perhaps like me, your love of stories grows at Christmastime. For it is during this Christmas season when miracles are possible, and often quite frequent. It is at Christmas where we witness the unthinkable. Ghosts showing past, present, and future realities all for the benefit of a money loving scrooge. The town of Whoville growing the heart of a Grinch with their songs of love as he races down a mountain to return a stolen Christmas. A pre-adolescent boy thwarting the attempt of two robbers having been left by his family, not once, not twice, but yes, three times. A singing snowman, a red nosed reindeer, Clark Griswald of all people… And if the plots and characters of these Christmas tales aren’t enough to draw us in, there’s always the totally absurd.
A babe born of a virgin, shepherds that paid enough attention to angels to show up, kings following a star to bring gifts. A power crazed king killing off thousands of infant boys in an attempt to keep one from coming to the throne – we’ll get back to him in a minute…
But no story recently, even in these days of Christmas, has taken center stage quite like the one imagined by J.K. Rowling. Over the past decade plus, the adventures of a young wizard named Harry Potter have invited us all into a magical world. We enter a fantastic world where dining hall ceilings reflect the night sky. It is a world where friendships are strengthened as Ron, Hermoine, and Harry go in search of ways to stop the evil Lord Voldemort.
I am drawn to Rowling’s tale for a number of reasons. The witty banter between the Weasly children. The motherly figure of Minerva McGonigal. The richness of language used to paint the picture of a Hogwarts at Christmas. The wild adventures of our three star wizarding pupils as they confront the evils inside themselves as well as those threatening Rawlings wonderful world.
There are however parts that I wish Rowling would go back and rewrite. Sections of the narrative that while appropriate just don’t fit my vision of this world that she’s created, you know, the parts where the bad guys look like they’re going to win, or where your favorite house elf gets written out of the story.
So as we heard the gospel reading on this Sunday morning when lights are still shining on trees and presents still might be wrapped under the tree, the same part of me that wants to do some editing for Rowling, wants to do the same favor for the gospel writer in Matthew. It’s just too soon…how can we go from the wise men giving gifts and the wonder of an infant birth to this horrible tragedy in just verses?
But as much as we might want to turn the page, we must pause here with Harod’s wraith. We must deal with the dull and ugly parts of the Christmas story as well as bright and shiny ones.
Reflecting on this passage from Matthew, Tom Long writes:
Viewed from the surface, we have in this story of Herod’s deadly intrigue a sad bit of human history, one that is replayed almost every day in the newspapers. A political tyrant, quaking in his boots, is on the edge of engaging in a reign of terror to preserve his grip on the population. An innocent family is caught in the power play and must flee for their lives. Events seem out of control; one wonders if history is “a tale told by an idiot,” full of suffering but impoverished in meaning. Matthew, however, sees beneath the surface. Although the course of human affairs seems to be scribbled at random, another story, this one a confident narrative of grace and redemption, is being firmly written by the hidden hand of God.
Quite often this story begs questions about why God allows such horrors to occur. Where is God when tragedy strikes and the unthinkable happens?
And there really aren’t any answers to give. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, God seems distant, and we are left holding a Holy book full of stories of God acting (or not acting) in ways we aren’t comfortable with. Tearing out the pages, or trying to rewrite the script, isn’t an option. So we must sit with these stories. And we must look at the bigger story of which they are just a part.
For in addition to the heart breaking, heart-hardening stories found in our sacred text there are stories of hope and salvation. There are stories of redemption and promise. We remember that not only did Joseph, Mary, and Jesus return from Egypt, but that others too have returned from what appeared to be a certain death, captive in a foreign land. Led by Moses the Israelites too returned to the Promised Land – the one flowing with milk and honey.
So friends as we journey with one another and with God during this Christmastide, what stories are we paying attention to?
What is the narrative of our life as we respond to the greatest of Christmas gifts that we are given in the love and grace of God?
And how will we sit together with these hard texts, while searching for God’s life-giving, grace-filled word in a world where sometimes we just don’t see it?
 Tom Long, Matthew, p.21