Sermon: Epiphany 2019, New Life Lutheran Church in Dripping Springs, Texas
Pastor Carmen Retzlaff
Gospel: Matthew 2:1–23
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
13 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.’ 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and 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.’
16 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. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘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.’
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20‘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.’ 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But 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. 23There 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.’
Though we are a young church, here at New Life, we already have traditions and things we hold dear. We are committed to being part of our local community, and to our relationships with local organizations —like the Girl Scout Harp Troop. And their playing in worship on the Sunday closest to Epiphany is now a long tradition for this relatively short-lived church.
Though we are an outdoor church, and casual in that way, we are rooted in the ancient rhythms of the Christian liturgy. We follow the lectionary. We are connected to Christians around the world through our stories, and through our worship. We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us.
We also have a tradition, for a few years now, of veering slightly from the lectionary and reading all of Matthew 2 on this Sunday, including the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents with the story of the Magi. We are committed to children here, to involving them, and making them a priority. And part of honoring them seems to be telling the truth - to them and about them. We tell them hard parts of Bible stories, of our sacred stories—and there are a lot of hard parts. And we balance pretty phrasing about children and loving their innocence with the real stories, like this one, of their precariousness- the truth that they are vulnerable in the face of greed and power. Like the other marginalized people this baby Jesus will live among and be in relationship with. First, though, God came as a child, and came so close to mortal danger at the hands of a tyrant king.
But of course, he came close to mortal danger before that, as all babies do. Being born is dangerous business, as is giving birth. Infant and maternal mortality are still significant causes of death, even here in this place of general, if not evenly-distributed, wealth. God came to earth as a vulnerable baby in a low-income family in a place of political unrest. Mary, the mother of God-with-us, narrowly missed crying with the other mothers, descendants of Rachel, a long line of mothers with fierce love for fragile infants.
This story is rich in meaning for us as Christian people. And each year we hear it in a different way, and think about it in our time and place. We are committed, here, to be close to and connected with nature, in God’s creation. This year we are joined by Lutheran bishops, travelers, from many parts of the continent, also hearing this story on this day in this place, with us. And this story sounds different outside.