GOD IS WITH US
REV. JODI BARON – January 3, 2016 – 2 CHRISTMAS, YEAR C: MATTHEW 2:13-15,19-23
In the name of the God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
A few years ago I was sitting in class chatting with some friends about an assignment we had to do involving a role-playing of sorts.
We had to come up with a fictitious parish and re-tell the class how we processed some aspect of a drama that had developed in our common life. My group had decided on a name for the community, we wanted to call it “Pantocrator” which is the Greek meaning of “Ruler of All” and in the tradition of the Church is commonly depicted as “God is With Us” by being displayed in a prominent place.
The oldest icon, of this Pantocrator, is believed to be from the 6th century preserved in a monastery when most icons had been destroyed.
We got to work and I took on the job of re-creating the icon for our presentation. As is my custom, I got the idea to do it having never tried it before, and believed it would come together as it needed to.
Well, needless to say, the project that I anticipated only taking me a few hours turned into one that was not possible for me to complete by the deadline. So I did what I could with it and then put it in the basement and essentially forgot all about it.
Until many months later when I was about halfway through my summer internship of Chaplaincy at the local hospital and going through some of the most grueling of inner work I had ever done in my life, I was invited to put down my computer and create something as an expression of my work thus far.
I dusted off that partially created icon and got to work. Night after night, I tore magazine pages and sorted colors and glued tiny fragments together until the process said what it needed to say.
God Is With Us.
It hangs on the wall to this day, in my office, and reminds me that even in the midst of the challenges and tragedy folks faced everyday that I was there, I proclaimed and believed, just a little bit, that God was there with them. With us.
I think it’s pretty incredible that for the last 2,000 years there have been people dedicating their life’s work to passing this message along to the next generation. Time and time again, spanning continent and languages and cultures…this message of the Christ child born to an unwed mother in a foreign land who would later be rejected by his own people, hung on a cross to die, and manifest victory over death through God’s resurrection and ascension of this Christ, has been given to us.
A royal gift.
A sacred gift.
A gift filled with mystery and nuances and timeless teachings,
and most of all, with Faith and Love.
God’s epic love story for humanity.
You see, Matthew’s birth story, of God taking on flesh, doesn’t happen in a manger, like Luke’s story does. It begins with a shady accounting of the lineage Jesus was born into. It speaks of God’s protecting, visiting, planning, and taking of the flesh of his creation. It’s entirely spiritual, whereas Luke’s account is fleshy and humanly recognizable.
Matthew 1:1 says, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Those first few verses of this gospel tell the whole truth as passed down to this community. All of it.
Then in 1:18 we are introduced to the man Joseph, the dreamer, who was being called to do something unheard of, unprecedented.
The mother, Mary, before they even lived together, conceived a child by the Holy Spirit and was going to name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
It tells of a scared and lonely couple fleeing tyranny and threat of death not once, not twice, but three times! It tells of a royal baby who is the obsession of kings and visited by important foreigners who give expensive gifts.
It’s a tale which intentionally highlights the faithfulness of the characters needed to play out such a story, but that the hidden main character is God himself.
God is the one who is protecting, visiting, planning, and taking on the flesh of his creation.
All the while witnessing the horrors that humans are capable of.
His own creation, slaughtering of innocents, violence beyond comprehension, poverty beyond comparison.
His own heart breaking for his beloved to come back.
This love story is the one that we tell over and over again from womb to tomb. Christmas to Easter to Pentecost and all the beautiful days in between till heaven itself is on earth.
And along with these stories we tell, we say the Creed, because we believe they articulate a faith in something bigger than what we are humanly capable of believing.
We say, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.”
And sometimes it takes our breath away, if we let it, of what the Creator of the Universe did for humanity by taking on flesh and becoming totally vulnerable, dependent upon the willingness of two unknowns to be faithful to a few dreams they had. Can you imagine?
The Creed is much like what Matthew’s community was doing, looking back over the events that had taken place as they processed what it meant that God became his own creation so that he could know us better…and that we could know him, as friend. They needed to process what it all meant, and continued to reveal of God’s love and presence with them in the midst of unimaginable suffering and cruelty and violence. Re-telling the story manifests faith which produces healing which gives birth to hope.
And we pray the Lord’s prayer because it articulates a prayer we are often too afraid to pray ourselves. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us our daily bread…”
We come to the table to remember Christ died, Christ is risen, and that Christ will come again, because when we walk out those doors there is an onslaught of pressures threatening to strip us of Hope that is not humanly possible to sustain.
I come here, perhaps like you, to pray words that have been prayed for hundreds of years, to hear scripture that has been read in community for thousands of years, and to participate in the sacraments given God’s church to strengthen and give solace to God’s people to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
It’s a big story. And it’s a good story. An epic story of Love and Friendship and Betrayal and Forgiveness. And it needs to be shared.