If we are listening, I’m quite certain we can still hear Rachel weeping for her children. It isn’t exactly what we want to be thinking about with Christmas candles still burning, though, is it? For decades I have avoided preaching on this passage from Matthew. The other texts this week are much more uplifting and lend themselves well to praise-filled sermons.
Perhaps you have chosen to lift up Isaiah’s reminder that out of “pity and love” we are saved in our distress. There’s a timeliness to a message on where redemption comes from. All throughout Advent Isaiah cautioned us about trusting human ways over holy ways and this is a clear statement that redemption doesn’t come out of human ways.
Psalm 148 could be the basis for a message filled with praise. Perhaps a reminder of all that God has done for us is appropriate as Christmas convictions begin to fade.
The Hebrews passage serves as a reminder that we are siblings in Christ, that Jesus walked among us for a reason. While I find some of the theology in this passage challenging, the message of Christ’s on-going presence with us could be reassuring as well as an invitation to walk through life more intentionally.
And now we come to the Matthew text. I will be preaching on this text, as you might have surmised. The image of Rachel weeping for her slaughtered children is one that I cannot shake. It seems to me that we still have not figured out how to protect our children from the Herods of today. It won’t be a welcome message in the midst of Christmastide, but a necessary one. The innocents of this world are still being slaughtered in Syria for sure. And in how many other places? And we who walk in the Light, what are we doing to provide safety and refuge? What has this to do with manger scenes and Christmas carols?
The Christmas story that we have cleaned up into a story for children isn’t actually that. It is a messy story with lots of risk involved. If we have indeed made it to Bethlehem to kneel before the Christ-child, then we cannot continue on in the same fashion as before. At the very least, we have to recognize with Isaiah that God redeemed us and we cannot redeem ourselves. When truly confronted with God breaking into the world, we have little choice but to sing God’s praises with the Psalmist. Similarly, when we see the fragile beauty of the babe born in Bethlehem, we are confronted with our own fragility and need for this One who will unite us as siblings, as Paul pointed out. And the ultimate risk is in recognizing that Jesus embodied so much of what the world continues to reject, if not outright slaughter. Jesus was born into a family without a home and later became a refugee, and, later still, wasn’t entirely welcome in the town where he made his home.
This story is fraught with risk. If we claim it as our own, we claim it in its fullness – from the messy, smelly, noisy birth through the flight to Egypt and everything that follows. This really isn’t a story for children. This is a story for people willing to risk kinship with the One who is the Light the world keeps trying to extinguish.
Wherever the Spirit is leading you this week, please join in the conversation so we can continue this messy, risky journey together.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, vlog, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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